Almost exactly nine years after hundreds of thousands of Christians were forced to flee from their homes due to the occupation of their lands by ISIS, efforts continue to rebuild lives and infrastructure. Aid to the Church in Need has just helped complete one of these projects in the city of Dohuk.
On 6 August 2014, the world watched in horror as ISIS jihadists poured into the Nineveh Plain, in Iraq, forcing hundreds of thousands of Christians to flee from their ancestral lands to save their lives.
Many of those who managed to escape made their way to the relative safety of Iraqi Kurdistan, settling mostly in Erbil, but also in other large cities such as Sulaymaniyah, Kirkuk and Dohuk. After ISIS was defeated, some returned to their villages, but a considerable number opted to stay in what they now considered their new homes.
Dohuk is currently home to around 1,450 Catholic families, as well as many Orthodox Christians. The majority of the Catholics are Chaldean, but around one third are Syriac. To better serve this community, in 2019 the diocese began the construction of a large pastoral centre. Construction has been slow, however, since even though Dohuk is in a better financial situation than many of the surrounding towns, the Diocese had trouble raising funds.
After a visit to Dohuk in March 2022, and seeing the needs and the plans of the Diocese first-hand, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) approved a support package that allowed the local Church to go ahead with the building and complete the project. The completed pastoral centre was finally inaugurated on 8 July, by the current Bishop Azad Shaba, who has been in charge of the diocese since 2021.
The ground floor of this new three-story building will be dedicated to diocesan activities such as Radio Mary, a listening center, the Mother Teresa fraternity for the poor and the sick, a museum, archives, and other services, as well as an office to receive guests, while the first floor has halls which will host the activities of the Christian Education Institute, the diocesan school, and other activities. The second floor will be a permanent residence for the bishop and eleven priests.
In a speech during the inauguration ceremony, Bishop Azad Shaba thanked his predecessor and all those who had worked on the project, as well as donors who helped make it a reality. ACN was singled out by the bishop for its contribution, which is just the latest in a long and fruitful history of cooperation with Christian communities in Iraq generally, and in Dohuk in particular.
ACN continues to be committed to helping Christians in Iraq remain in their homeland and rebuild their lives, which were devastated by the ISIS occupation. For many of those who were forced to flee to Dohuk nine years ago, the new pastoral centre is a sign of great hope for a better future.