On the eve of the Pope’s visit to Iraq, a Catholic charity has revealed that key projects in the country funded by a donation from the pontiff have been completed.
Christians in Bashiqa, 18 miles (30 km) from Mosul, who were forced out of their homes on the Nineveh Plains by Islamist extremist group Daesh (ISIS), were helped by a donation of €200,000 (more than £170,000) given to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) by Pope Francis.
The papal donation – which was raised by the auction of a Lamborghini sports car presented to the Pontiff in November 2017 – was used to fund the completion of two projects in Bashiqa, which suffered massive damage during both Daesh’s seizure of the town and subsequent battles to retake the Nineveh Plains.
The Pope’s gift helped ACN rebuild two sites badly hit by the fighting – a kindergarten and multi-purpose centre, both belonging to the Syriac-Catholic parish of Our Lady.
Syriac-Catholic Bishop Yohanna Boutros Mouche of Mosul and parish priest Father Rezqallah Alsimanni said that they were overjoyed that these projects had been completed in time for Pope Francis’s visit.
They told the charity: “We are delighted to have finished work on Our Lady’s kindergarten, which will help and encourage our children to return to Bashiqa and resume their education.”
As of January 2020, 371 Christian families had come back to Bashiqa, representing nearly 59 percent of the total number of Christian families living in the town before it was seized by Daesh.
Across the Nineveh Plains region, more than 45 percent of Christian families have now returned and almost 57 percent of the houses that were damaged during the Daesh occupation have been rebuilt.
The multipurpose centre, which has a capacity for more than 1,000 people, will also benefit the other minority groups in Bashiqa, as all the town’s communities had used it for weddings and other celebrations.
The donation to help Bashiqa was not the first time that the Pope has supported ACN’s work in Iraq.
In 2016 Pope Francis gave €100,000 (more than £86,000) to help Saint Joseph’s Clinic, Erbil, which was providing medical help for IDP families who had found refuge in the Kurdish capital after being driven from their homes.