In Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in the North, the Christmas bells rang out again this year for the first time in four years. During the preceding years this once so familiar sound had no longer been heard. Now, for the first time since the war, the Christians were able to celebrate Holy Mass at Christmas in the church of Mar Boulus (Saint Paul) in the Al-Mundshen suburb of Mosul. However, even as recently as just before Christmas it had been near impossible for the Christians to clean their church in Mosul. But then a group of young Muslims took the initiative, even re-erecting the Cross and, in a sign of reconciliation, inviting all Christians to celebrate Christmas in Mosul.
High-ranking representatives of the Christian Church in the region celebrated Christmas mass in Mosul especially for 400 displaced Christian families. The service was led by Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako and the Bishop of Babylon, Shlemun Warduni (both Chaldeans), the Syriac Catholic Archbishop Youhanna Moutros Moshe from Mosul, and the Syriac Orthodox Bishop Nicodemus Daoud Matti Sharaf. Also among the guests of honor were the presidents of the universities of Mosul und Niniveh.
While most displaced Christians are still living in the Erbil refugee camp, the first 60 families have recently decided to return to Mosul, according to Patriarch Sako. “The efforts of the churches to recreate a stable and peaceful environment for the local population have borne further fruit,” stated Andrzej Halemba, desk officer for the Middle East at the international aid organization Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
“Let us hope that the light of Jesus may shine in their hearts and bring light to our wounded world,” said the Dominican Father Najeeb Michaeel, who referred to this special Christmas service as one of the highlights in recent months.
In 2003 around 1.3 million Christians were living in Iraq, accounting for approximately 8% of the total population. Today their number has fallen to only around 250,000, representing less than 1% of the population, according to ACN. Until recently there were no Christians left in Mosul, since they were all forced to flee from the advancing terrorists of the so-called Islamic State and seek refuge in the town of Erbil in the autonomous Kurdish region of northeastern Iraq.
The international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation ACN is currently working to encourage the return of the Christians to their former homes in Iraq. With its appeal for a “return to the roots”, ACN is closely involved in an extensive program to rebuild the homes and churches of the uprooted Christians from the Nineveh plains region, not far from the city of Mosul. And indeed with some success – for already around a third of the Christian exiles have now returned to their homes on the Nineveh plains. In its Christmas appeal ACN is continuing to call for donations to support the Iraqi Christians in returning to their homeland.