Iraq’s Displaced Christians ‘Will Go Back Home,’ Once Their Safety is Assured

By Maria Lozano

Damaged church in Bartella, on the Nineveh Plane; ACN photo

Damaged church in Bartella, on the Nineveh Plane; ACN photo

NEW YORK—According to a leading Iraqi prelate, the country’s displaced Christians currently stranded in Kurdistan are unlikely to be able to return to their homes on the Nineveh Plane until Mosul is liberated and the region is completely pacified.

In an interview with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Kurdistan, predicted that it won’t be until summer 2017 that the proper conditions will be achieved, including the reconstruction of damaged villages and security guarantees.

Meanwhile, an estimated 40,000 Christians will soon be confronted with harsh winter condition, relying on the local Church for food, housing and fuel.

ACN is foremost among 17 faith-based organizations—including the Knights of Columbus and Catholic Near East Welfare Association—that are enabling the Archdiocese of Erbil to meet the humanitarian and pastoral needs of the faithful under its care.

Archbishop Warda said: “Of course some people will stay in Duhok and Erbil because they have made their life here and started small businesses, but, if concrete signs [of safety and security] are given, people will definitely return. Hopefully, by next summer we will be seeing people on the ground [on the Nineveh Plane], working, cleaning and trying to get institutions going again.”

Along with his people, the archbishop is hopeful: “Finally, ISIS is being defeated; the Cross is victorious and finally this terrible evil is no longer there. People are attending Masses and saying prayers.”

People have begun “checking on their properties in these villages [on the Nineveh Plane],” he said, adding: “unfortunately there’s been a lot of destruction: there are burned out churches, while some of the shrines were completely destroyed and a lot of houses were damaged or destroyed, with furniture looted. We need time for reconstruction—to make these villages livable again,” Archbishop Warda said.

What’s more, besides the military challenge of recapturing Mosul from ISIS, there remai the political and social challenges of the post-ISIS reality, as Iraq’s Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds will likely clash over control over the region, and even Turkey is making its presence felt.

The archbishop said: “Christians are afraid that the borders of the Nineveh Plain will not be protected from political disputes. There are considerable fears that some people, some groups or parties will use the Nineveh Plain to shore up their position.”

He urged the international community “to put pressure on all concerned parties” to lay down their arms for the sake of peace, which will be a particular blessing to Christians and other minorities “who have been persecuted, who have experienced genocide.”

Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action. Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world. The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide. For more information contact Michael Varenne at michael@churchinneed.org or call 718-609-0939 or fax718-609-0938. Aid to the Church in Need, 725 Leonard Street, PO Box 220384, Brooklyn, NY 11222-0384. www.churchinneed.org