On the plains of Nineveh, in Iraq, there are 363 church buildings or other Church properties that were damaged or destroyed by Islamic State and now need to be rebuilt. Dominican Sisters Luma Khuder and Nazek Matty, are now both saying, “We hope to be able to return to Teleskuf as soon as possible. The families there have need of us.” Father Andrzej Halemba, the acting chairman of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, told the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN): “Already 450 families have returned to Teleskuf; we are hoping that many others will follow their example.”
“The agreement between the three Christian Churches is a good sign. People can see that the Churches are united and that the decisions are not being taken unilaterally.” Sister Luma Khuder and Sister Nazek Matty, both Dominican sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena, originally from the convent of Our Lady of the Rosary in Teleskuf, to the north of Mosul, see it as encouraging sign that the Christian Churches in Iraq are committed to the rebuilding of the Christian villages of the plains of Nineveh, which were destroyed by the so-called Islamic State (IS). On 27 March this year the Syriac Catholic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Chaldean Catholic Church formally established a committee, the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee (NRC), whose task is to oversee and plan the repair and rebuilding of almost 13,000 family homes.
Before the summer of 2014 the Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena had convents in several different towns on the Nineveh plains. Then the extremist fighters of Islamic State arrived and together with around 70 or so fellow Dominican sisters, Sister Luma and Sister Nazek found themselves internal refugees in the autonomous Kurdish -controlled region of northeast Iraq. “In 2014, as soon as we had arrived in Erbil”, explains Sister Luma, “we began distributing food, milk and nappies. We set up “emergency convents” in order to be as close as possible to the Christian refugees, to serve them and accompany them. In 2015, just as soon as the refugees were housed in more permanent lodgings, we opened two schools, one in Ankawa, to the north of Erbil, and the other in Dohuk. There are 600 children at the school in Erbil, ranging in age from 6 to 13. We also opened a nursery school, which has 392 children in it. These centres are financed by ACN among others. We depend totally on their aid.”
By now the situation is starting to change, and “the number of internal refugees in Kurdistan is slowly decreasing” notes Sister Nazek. “There is no longer any danger in Teleskuf, and a number of families have now returned to their homes”, she explains. And Sister Luma adds: “ACN is starting to rebuild the homes, including those in Teleskuf. IS only stayed in the village for a short time, and so the houses are not too badly damaged. We are also repairing our convent of Our Lady of the Rosary in Teleskuf, with the help of ACN. We want to return there as soon as possible together with the people, who are tired by now of living far from home.”
“We know that since January 2017 around 450 families have returned to Teleskuf, and many others are preparing to return”, explains Father Andrzej Halemba, who heads the project section of ACN for the Middle East and is likewise acting chairman of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee. “Today, of all the villages on the plains of Nineveh, Teleskuf is the safest. The area is in fact controlled by the Kurdish army. We are hoping that the return of the Christian families to Teleskuf will have a “domino effect” on the families from the other villages, who are still hesitating to return for fear that the situation is not yet altogether secure. ACN will be contributing over 40,000 Euros towards the cost of restoring the Dominican convent in Teleskuf. The sisters need to return as soon as possible, for the families have need of them.”
Over the Nineveh plains as a whole there are 363 Church properties that were attacked by so-called IS and which now need to be repaired or rebuilt. Of these 34 have been totally destroyed, 132 were set on fire and 197 are partly damaged. In Teleskuf alone we have counted 1104 private homes and 21 Church properties that have been damaged by IS.”