BAGHDEDA (QARAQOSH), Iraq – On 7 June 2019, Mgr Nizar Semaan, who most recently served in the UK, was ordained Coadjutor Archbishop for the Syriac Catholic Church. He will serve alongside Mgr Petros Mouche and have jurisdiction over Mosul, Kirkuk, and Kurdistan. He was ordained in his hometown of Baghdeda, a mostly Christian town of 25,000. The largest city in his Archdiocese will be Mosul, the city where ISIS declared its caliphate in 2014.
The ceremony was held at the Church of the Immaculate in Qaraqosh (Baghdeda), one of Iraq’s largest churches. Although some structural work has been done with a grant of 100,000 EUR from Aid to the Church in Need, the church is still visibly burnt and damaged, a reminder of the so called Islamic State’s two-year occupation of the town. The previously whitewashed ceiling remains blackened, and a makeshift lighting system took the place of the church’s damaged chandeliers.
His Beatitude Ignatius Joseph III Yonan, Syriac Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, celebrated the three-hour mass, which at various points employed Syriac, Arabic, and English. The primate leads the sui iuris Syriac Catholic Church, a continuation of the first-century Church of Antioch, where the Apostle Peter was first primate before moving to Rome. It has been in communion with Rome since 1782 after Metropolitan Michael Jarweh declared himself a Catholic. The primary liturgical language is Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus.
At times wearing a white veil, Mgr Semaan thanked those in attendance and described how the Patriarch had called him at 8.00 AM on a Saturday with the proposal, giving him ten days to think about it. Mgr Semaan expressed his hopes for building a better city, but the ordination was bittersweet. Several women from his family wore black clothes and black veils to mark the recent death of Mgr Semaan’s father.
“It is God’s will, and I accept it as it is,” he said, speaking to ACN after the mass. “I will do my best, as the Cardinal says, to realize the will of God in my service. That is the only thing I am going to do.” He asked for well-wishers to “continue praying, and I promise to work hand-by-hand with them together for the good of this city and the diocese.”
In attendance were around 600 mostly Syriac Catholic worshippers, including a choir of 30, and representatives of several religious orders, as well as a few Chaldean and Orthodox bishops. There were, in addition, several civil and military officials. The event was protected by the Nineveh Protection Unit, which has successfully maintained the town’s security since its liberation from ISIS in 2016. The road outside was blockaded as a security measure, and during the ceremony, soldiers could be seen patrolling the church roof through its upper windows.
Mgr Semaan was first ordained a priest in Baghdeda in 1991 in the same church, but from 2005 was responsible for the Syriac Catholic faithful in London. Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster in London, was unable to attend but passed on a message of support: “I greet all who are present in the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Qaraqosh, which bears so movingly the marks of suffering and destruction of recent decades. I write to assure you all of my prayers and those of the Diocese of Westminster, and of all Catholics in England and Wales … He is known and loved by so many here in England.
“We will miss him greatly, for has been in our Church 14 years, winning our respect and affection.”