beyond Isis, the revival of the Dominican convent ‘sign of life and hope’

The Chaldean bishop of Alqosh presided over the inauguration of the convent and the attached nursery for children, razed by the jihadists and rebuilt thanks to the efforts of international NGOs. A work that goes beyond “stones and bricks”, and is a symbol of a community that wants to start over. The appeal to those who have emigrated, to return to their land.

Baghdad () – A reconstruction that goes beyond “stones and bricks”, which is a sign of “life and hope” for an entire community. This is how Bishop Paolo Thabit Mekko, the Chaldean bishop of Alqosh (in Iraqi Kurdistan), describes the revival of a convent in a village in the Nineveh plain, destroyed by the militias of the Islamic State (IS, formerly Isis) during jihadist rule of the region, between the summer of 2014 and 2016. It is the convent of San José of the Dominican sisters and the attached nursery for children, which are located in Batnaya, recently rebuilt thanks to the commitment and financing of the Catholic NGO Ayuda a la Iglesia who suffers (ACN). The prelate presided over the inauguration on December 18.

For a long time Msgr. Mekko was a parish priest in the Nineveh Plain and was in the front line helping the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the men of the Caliphate. An eyewitness of the devastation that these caused, he nevertheless invited to have “confidence” in the “reconstruction”. Whether for a symbolic building or for the entire community, it is the “sign of faith” and the Dominican nuns “are an example,” added Msgr. Mekko.

The convent is a sign of new life in an area where militants have destroyed altars, beheaded statues and smeared the walls of churches and houses with anti-Christian symbols and messages. “Batnaya became a ghost town when Daesh left and some wondered if it would ever prosper again,” says ACN UK country director Caroline Hull, who recently visited parts of the Nineveh Plain. However, she adds, “the sisters’ new convent is a sign that Christianity can recover and have a future.”

Batnaya was an important Christian center of the plain before the arrival of Daesh (Arabic acronym for the Islamic State). Until 2014, about 5,000 people lived in the area, mostly Chaldean Catholics, but with the rise of Islamist militants in the summer of that year, they fled seeking refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan. Three years later, the IS was militarily defeated, but the reconstruction of the entire area is delayed due to lack of resources, the fear that is still alive and the exodus of many inhabitants who have preferred to emigrate to diaspora communities in North America, Australia and Europe. Also delaying the reconstruction work are booby traps scattered around and a vast system of underground tunnels created by Daesh.

Among those who have decided to stay are the Dominican nuns, who in 2017 temporarily moved into a house made available to them by a Christian from Telskuf, always on the plain, and now they have returned to the convent when the renovations were finished. On behalf of the religious, Sister Huda Sheto thanked all those who had contributed to the revival of the community and affirmed her commitment to serve the Christian community on a material and spiritual level, including the education of the children in the nursery.

Bishop Mekko, for his part, pointed out that “the presence of the sisters […] it is a sign of encouragement for all people to return” to their homes. “Christians in Iraq – he adds – have a deep wound, that wound must be healed with faith”, which consists precisely in “reconstructing”. The prelate encouraged all those who have emigrated to return, because “his name and identity are in Batnaya, his roots are in Batnaya and not in the places of emigration.”

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