Batnaya: Beyond Isis, the rebirth of the Dominican convent 'a sign of life and hope'
The Chaldean bishop of Alqosh celebrated the inauguration of the building and the adjacent preschool, destroyed by jihadists and rebuilt thanks to the efforts of international NGOs. A work that goes beyond 'stones and bricks', but is a symbol of a community that wants to start again. An appeal to those who have migrated to return to their land.
Baghdad (AsiaNews) - The reconstruction of a convent in a village in the plain of Nineveh, destroyed by the militias of the Islamic State (IS, formerly Isis) during the phase of jihadist domination in the area between the summer of 2014 and 2016, goes beyond "stones and bricks," it is a sign "of life and hope" for an entire community.
Msgr Paul Thabit Mekko, Chaldean bishop of Alqosh (in Iraqi Kurdistan), recounts the rebirth of St Joseph's convent of the Dominican Sisters and the adjacent kindergarten in Batnaya, recently rebuilt thanks to the efforts and funding allocated by the Catholic NGO Aid to the Church in Need (Acn) and inaugurated by the prelate on 18 December.
Msgr Mekko, a long-time parish priest in the Nineveh plain and for several years in the front line in helping the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the Caliphate's men, an eyewitness to the devastation, invites us to have "confidence" in the "reconstruction". Whether it be of a symbolic building or of an entire community, this is the "sign of faith" and the Dominican nuns "are an example", adds Mgr Mekko.
The convent is a sign of new life in an area where militants have destroyed altars, beheaded statues and daubed the walls of churches and houses with anti-Christian symbols and messages. Batnaya became a ghost town after Daesh left and some wondered if it would ever thrive again -- but the Sisters' new convent is a sign that Christianity can flourish and have a future in the Nineveh Plains" says Acn National Director in the UK Caroline Hull, who recently visited parts of the area in question.
Batnaya was an important Christian centre in the plain before the arrival of Daesh (Arabic acronym for the Islamic State). Until 2014, around 5,000 people, mostly Chaldean Catholics, inhabited the area, but with the rise of Islamist militiamen in the summer of that year, they fled, seeking shelter in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Three years later, the group was defeated militarily, but the reconstruction of the whole area is still struggling to resume due to a lack of resources, lingering fears and the exodus of many who have preferred to migrate between diaspora communities in North America, Australia and Europe.
Reconstruction work is also hampered by the widespread booby traps and a vast system of underground tunnels created by Daesh.
Among those who have decided to stay are the Dominican nuns, who in 2017 moved temporarily to a house made available to them by a Christian from Telskuf, also in the plain, before returning to the convent once renovations are completed.
Speaking on behalf of all the sisters, Sr. Huda Sheto thanked all those who had contributed to the rebirth of the structure and relaunched their commitment to serve the Christian community on a material and spiritual level, including the education of children in the nursery.
Msgr. Mekko emphasised that "the presence of the nuns in this village is a sign of encouragement for all the people of the village to return too...We Christians in Iraq have a deep wound, this wound must be healed by faith". He added: "We must have faith to rebuild the village, and you are a sign of that faith."
In conclusion, the prelate addresses an appeal to those who have emigrated, inviting them to return, because "your name and identity are in Batnaya and your roots are in Batnaya, not in the places of emigration."