03/31/2023, 16.33
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Used to store weapons, Mosul’s Deir Mar Mikhael monastery sees its first Mass since the US invasion

“We hope that we can continue our prayers in all the destroyed churches and monasteries,” local archbishop says. Since 2003, the community has lived in a climate of insecurity, which peaked when the Islamic State took power. The latter used the building to store weapons and make explosives. Reconstruction is slow. Local bishops slam the country’s electoral reform.

Mosul (AsiaNews) – After years of violence and persecution, Christians in northern Iraq have started to openly practise their faith again in their native land amid joy but also fear.

The US invaded Iraq in 2003. Since then, “we have lived with all [sorts of] the events, including killings, kidnappings, and explosions," said 31-year-old Hamid Tuzi, quoted in al-Jazeera.

After 20 years, things seem to have improved and the community is happy and relieved to be able to hold Mass again at Deir Mar Mikhael monastery.

Still, it will be hard to forget the summer of 2014 when the Islamic State (IS) sparked mass flight from Mosul and the Nineveh Plain towards Kurdistan or abroad, one of the most traumatic moments in the history of this ancient community.

Liberation came in 2017, but six years later, only 50 families (out of 50,000 people) have returned to their homes, while the process of rebuilding homes, places of worship and businesses remains an uphill struggle, so much so that some are still commuting from Erbil waiting for better times.

Nevertheless, the religious service performed yesterday at Deir Mar Mikhael monastery by the Chaldean Archbishop Najib Mikhael Moussa of Mossul-Aqrā, accompanied by Bishop Paul Thabit al-Mekko of Alquoch represents a milestone on the path of rebirth.

“This liturgy will be the beginning of the reconstruction of the monastery in the near future and the return of prayers,” said Archbishop Moussa.

The Islamic State “looted all the property of the monastery and deliberately vandalised and distorted it with graffiti.” In addition, planes struck the monastery because it was used it as an IS base, with weapons stored and explosives manufactured.

For years, Christians were not able to pray in churches and monasteries in Mosul (and the Nineveh Plain) because of violence and insecurity.

Now, with some buildings partially rebuilt, the celebration of the divine liturgy in the monastery for the first time in two decades marks a new step towards stability, although there is still a long way to go.

“We hope that we can continue our prayers in all the destroyed churches and monasteries,” Archbishop Moussa said.

“After 2003, as Christians, we used to stay at home for long periods and deliberately not go to churches and monasteries because of the bad security conditions and threats to Christians,” Tuzi explained. “Christians were frequently targeted, many people were threatened and emigrated, and many priests were killed”.

Indeed, in the community, no one will forget Bishop Paul Faraj Rahho and the seven priests, including Fr Ragheed Ganni, killed by jihadis.

Ezzat Sami, 69, has lived in Duhok, Iraqi Kurdistan, since fleeing Mosul, Iraq’s largest northern city, but often visits his old hometown.

He is “happy that we can come to Mass again, [. . .] remember the old days and remember our relatives who passed away”, like his late father.

“Muslims used to share our joys and sorrows, we were brothers and still are. The monastery guard is Muslim. When we celebrated Mass two days ago, the residents of the area welcomed us”.

Meanwhile, local bishops have taken the extraordinary step of speaking out against Iraq’s new electoral law and expressing their opinion about the long-standing issue of minority representation, and the potential loss of ethnic and religious pluralism, not any one seat.

If the right steps are not taken to ensure representativeness, the prelates grouped in the Nineveh Council might take certain unexpected steps, like boycotting the next election.

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