Mar Sako: reconstruction and coexistence plans in Mosul and Nineveh to offset Islamic State destruction

The Chaldean Patriarch condemns the destruction of Mosul’s historic mosque and the devastation by the Islamic State’s "culture of death". He prayed in front of Fr Ragheed’s church for coexistence between Christians and Muslims. He called on Catholics in Europe and the West to visit the refugees, to teach them "to have more confidence in the future". He gave a first assessment of the return of displaced people.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – The Chaldean Patriarchate "firmly condemns" the destruction of the Al-Nuri mosque and its leaning minaret, because such acts "do not only devastate the history" of a city and country, but also a "people's memory and culture,” said Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako who spoke to AsiaNews about the Islamic State’s destruction of Mosul’s famed mosque.

Deploring the obliteration of the "ancient place of worship", the Chaldean primate said that "Daesh (Arabic acronym for the Islamic State) is like the Beast of Revelation", and called on "the whole world to move and act" to defeat its culture of death.

After the grave and systematic violence by the Jihadi group, which is still holding out in west Mosul,  life is slowly getting back to normal in east Mosul and the Nineveh Plain liberated by an offensive carried out by Arab-Kurdish forces.

In order to allow displaced people to return, homes must be rebuilt and the land must be cleared of jihadi mines. The goal is to support reconstruction in a perspective of unity and pluralism of different faiths, ethnic groups and cultures.

Hopes remains that Mosul and Nineveh can be a true model of coexistence and religious freedom for the future.

“The atmosphere among refugees is different from a year ago,” the patriarch told AsiaNews. "A new culture is developing at present,” based on “coexistence and trust between Christians and Muslims".

Mar Sako recently travelled to east Mosul where he met not only military and civilian leaders, but also the newly freed residents.

"Everyone, even Muslims, say that Christians must return,” he said, “that without them the city would not be the same. I found that life was almost normal, despite all the suffering. "

In Mosul, the Chaldean primate also visited the church of the Holy Spirit, where Fr Ragheed Ganni was killed ten years ago, along with three deacons, for their faith. "We prayed for our martyrs. For me it was a shock to come back to the city because it has really changed.”

For the prelate, there was a personal aspect to the visit. “I wanted to visit my father's house, held by the Islamic State for a long period of time. Now it is home to two Muslim families. I told them they could stay.”

However, “All the churches are ruined, utterly changed, desecrated. Daesh sought to erase the Christian memory. Now I fear for the Old Town, where the region’s oldest Christian places of worship are located.”

We need to help Iraq, its people, "put behind the Islamic State’s culture of death," Mar Sako explained. "We all suffered a lot, Christians, Muslims, Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen. Nothing of this ideology must remain. This is a huge task and we all must work together to turn a new page."

"We should not defeat people but the ideology, because it is still present. We must work for national unity, rebuilding friendships and relationships among people."

"For this reason, since it is the summer holiday season, I urge Christians in Europe and the West to come to us, to Iraq's Kurdistan, to provide help, not only material help but also and above all, human and spiritual help."

At present, "some French groups" have heard the call, but it is crucial that more "accompany these people (i.e. the returning displaced people)" to teach them "to have more confidence in the future."

"The presence of foreigners can create another atmosphere, one of confidence and hope" after a long period of "fear and despair".

"We do not need only money,” the patriarch said. We also need “human relations, exchanges and knowhow, a contribution to reconstruction, a revival with clean houses, churches restored to their original function, and work to do."

The presence of Western Christians can help us feel less alone and become a stimulus so that "people can challenge themselves and take the lead in rebuilding homes and cities. We cannot just do nothing, wait for help, money or projects from the outside."

Some displaced residents have already made the trek home to their villages and towns in the Nineveh Plain. Others commute every day to restart businesses and start farming again.

"Life is gradually being reborn," the Chaldean primate said. The numbers confirm it. Teleskuf already has 635 families; Baqofa has 30 families out of the original 70; 126 families returned to Qaraqosh (out of an original population of about 40,000 people). More is going on in Batnaya, Bartella and Karamlash.

"Refugees are coming back, albeit very slowly,” Mar Sako noted. “Schools must be finished, the school year must be completed, exams must be taken.”

“Summer is hard. In some villages, there is no power, and some of the displaced still have two and a half months of paid rent in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan." (DS)