A long-awaited decision to restore an iconic church in Iraq desecrated by Daesh (ISIS) – one of 14 repair projects agreed by a leading Catholic charity – has been hailed as a turning point in the struggle to keep Christianity alive in one of its most ancient heartlands.
Syriac Catholic Archbishop Petros Mouche of Mosul thanked Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) for committing to repair the Great Al-Tahira Church (Church of the Immaculate Conception), Qaraqosh (Baghdeda), the largest Christian town in the Nineveh Plains.
The plan to restore the church’s fire-damaged interior is one of a series of building projects across Nineveh announced by ACN.
Speaking to ACN, Archbishop Mouche said: “For us, [the Great Al-Tahira] Church is a symbol. This church was built in 1932, and it was the villagers of Baghdeda who constructed it.
“For this reason, we want this symbol to remain as a Christian symbol to encourage the people, especially the locals of Baghdeda, to stay here.
“This is our country, and this is a witness that we can give for Christ.”
ACN has also approved 13 other projects to rebuild church properties across the region – all of them damaged and desecrated by Daesh militants.
The charity green-lighted plans to reconstruct the Najem Al-Mashrik Hall and Theatre in Bashiqa, a town occupied by both Christians and Yazidis – a project which will enable the venue to once again play host to wedding ceremonies and other celebrations.
Local priest Father Daniel Behnam said: “This project will help ensure the survival of Christian families and provide them with important services.
“In particular, it will help young people, providing a space for pastoral, cultural and youth activities.”
This latest tranche of ACN aid builds on the charity’s ‘Return to the Roots’ programme to enable Christians to return to Nineveh following the defeat of the Islamists.
Central to the initiative is the repair of homes damaged by Daesh – of which 37 percent were restored by ACN.
ACN’s backing of church building projects for the region was approved at a meeting of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, chaired by ACN Middle East projects director Father Andrzej Halemba, attended by Philipp Ozores, Secretary-General of ACN.
Archbishop Mouche said: “I would like to take advantage of this occasion to thank all the people who help, as these organisations can’t help us without the support of their benefactors.”
Christians in Iraq, who numbered 1.5 million before 2003, have declined by 90 percent within a generation.
Of the 120,000 Christians who fled the Nineveh Plains following the Daesh invasion in 2014, more than 45,000 have since returned.