Banking on support from Baghdad, Iraqi Church leaders
have expressed hope that the country’s Christians could return to their ancient
homelands on the Nineveh Plane once the region’s major city of Mosul is
recaptured from ISIS.
Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako of Baghdad, head of the largest
Christian community in Iraq, told international Catholic charity Aid to the
Church in Need (ACN) that the return of faithful to Nineveh is crucial if the
Church in Iraq is to survive long-term.
Neville Kyrke-Smith, national director of ACN-UK, who just returned from Erbil,
the regional capital of Kurdish northern Iraq where the bulk of Iraqi
Christians have found refuge, said bishops and lay Christian leaders were
hopeful of Christians going back to their homes once “international protection”
would be in place.
“There are well-made plans for the
liberation of Mosul and Nineveh, with precise plans to relocate displaced people,”
Kyrke-Smith said, adding that “it is clear that the Church is making a strong
case to re-claim its place in a region where, until 2014, there had been an
unbroken Christian presence stretching back almost to the start of
Patriarch Sako explained that according to a plan the Church leaders have in
hand “freeing Mosul and Nineveh from ISIS might be a glimmer of hope for native
residents to return home,” provided there is “legal protection for them, and
also granting them the necessary time to re-build trust with their [Muslim] neighbors.
Failing that, he said, the exodus of Christians from Iraq will continue.
Iraq’s Christian population has plummeted from more than one million before the
fall of President Saddam Hussein in 2003 to less than 250,000 today.
than half of Christians still in Iraq are displaced from Mosul and the Nineveh
and Plane. Kyrke-Smith said that “it is vital that Christianity which has been
driven out from Nineveh towns and villages is given the chance to come back to
Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, a key project partner delivering ACN
emergency aid for displaced Christians, told ACN that “for nearly 2,000 years
we Christians have been present on the Nineveh Plains and to return we need
Iraqi army needs to be a united force and the Peshmerga [Kurdish military] will
help, with outside support,” he said, adding that “military action as well reconciliation
work needs to be done. As Christians we have no involvement in violence, but we
can help rebuild.”