Homs and Mosul, from Isis victims the new Syrian Catholic bishops

The pope has approved the election of two new archbishops designated by the Sindo of the Patriarchate of Antioch of the Syrians: Fr. Jacques Mourad in 2015 in Syria was in the hands of jihadists for five months; in Iraq Fr. Qusay Mubarak Abdullah Hano was born and raised in the Nineveh Plain and was an exile among exiles in Erbil. The challenges of reconstruction.

Rome (AsiaNews) - Pope Francis yesterday gave his assent to the election of two bishops of the Syrian Catholic Church with extremely significant histories. Following the procedure of the Code of Eastern Churches, the Synod of Bishops of the Patriarchal Church of Antioch of the Syrians designated its own archbishops of Homs in Syria and of the battered Iraqi city of Mosul.   

For Homs - the very ancient episcopal see of Emesa, which also gave the Catholic Church a pope in the 2nd century (Anicetus who was on the Chair of Peter between 155 and 168) - the choice fell on Fr. Jacques Mourad, originally from Aleppo, who in 2015 was held for five months by Isis after being kidnapped from his community of Mar Elian, near the city of al Qaryatayn.

It was a dramatic experience for this now 54-year-old monk who is the co-founder of the Mar Mousa Community, created in another ancient monastery in Syria together with Fr. Paolo Dall'Oglio, an Italian Jesuit who was also kidnapped by Isis in the summer of 2013 and disappeared into thin air like thousands of Syrian victims of the war.

In 2016 - shortly after his release - Fr. Mourad had recounted in an interview with the PIME magazine Mondo e Missione "In those days the meaning of my life changed. And Charles de Foucauld's words, 'Father, I deliver myself into your hands,' acquired a new strength for me."

With this spirit-after a few years living in the monasteries of Cori in Italy and Sulaymanyah in Iraqi Kurdistan-last year Fr. Mourad had returned to al Qaryatayn,  in the diocese of Homs. And together with the local Christians who were victims with him of the kidnapping, he began the difficult construction site of reconstruction.

Starting with the Mar Elian monastery itself-which holds the remains of St. Julian, the great martyr of Emesa-which jihadists had desecrated and destroyed. "I told the Christians that the saint had saved and redeemed us by offering his monastery and tomb for us."

Fr. Jacques Mourad strongly pursued this rebuilding as a sign of reconciliation. "This work," reads a letter sent these days by the Mar Mousa Community, "was crowned by the reconsecration of the church and chapel at the hands of the Syrian Catholic Bishop of Damascus, Msgr. Jihad Battah, and the Syrian Orthodox Bishop of Homs, Msgr. Matta el-Khoury."

"The presence of the two bishops constituted a solemn act of reconciliation of the two Churches in Qaryatayn, which in the past had had strong disagreements over the ownership of the Monastery itself. In attendance were many priests from the Diocese of Homs and numerous faithful from Qaryatayn and the surrounding area, as well as many friends of the Community. "

"At the end of the Mass on Sept. 9, the feast day of Mar Elian, the saint's bones were laid in the restored sarcophagus that had been destroyed in 2015. Two Christians and two Muslims from Qaryatayn carried the saint's relics, to everyone's delight. It was a real wedding celebration, in which the Muslim community of Qaryatayn offered lunch to everyone present, more than 300 people."

Rebuilding is also the challenge facing Fr. Qusay Mubarak Abdullah Hano, 40, who was chosen by the Synod of the Syrian Catholic Patriarchate as its bishop of Mosul, the Iraqi city that was the capital of the self-styled Islamic State.

Syrian Catholics in Mosul and the Nineveh Plain historically are the second largest Christian community next to the Chaldean community, led since 2018 by Msgr. Najib Mikhael Moussa. The new Syrian Catholic bishop was born and raised in Qaraqosh, one of the cities in the Plain of Nineveh.

At the time of Isis, when jihadists burned down the episcope in Mosul, Fr. Hano was was ministering to the displaced in Erbil. Now he has been called to take up the legacy of Msgr. Youhanna Boutros Moshe, who led the Syrian Catholic community in Mosul during the long storm.

To this day it remains a daunting task.

As Syrian Catholic priest Fr. Raed Adel told the Iraqi daily Al 'Alam Al Jadeed a few days ago from Mosul, nearly two years after the pope's visit, barely 150 Christians have returned to Mosul, less than 1 percent of the community present before the dominance of the Isis ouster.

Weighing most heavily is the issue of Christians' property, which since the jihadists' raid9 has been sold and is struggling to be returned. The local authorities themselves are doing little to curb demographic change in areas once inhabited by Christians.

This is another reason why Msgr. Hano's episcopal ordination-which Patriarch of Antioch of the Syrians Ignace Youssif III Younan will preside over on Feb. 3 at the large Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh-will be an important sign for a Church that wants to regain its place in a land where Christians have a long history and a vocation they do not want to abandon.