ECCLESIA IN ASIA Homs and Mosul, from ISIS victims to new Syro-Catholic bishops

The Pope approved the appointment of two new archbishops designated by the Sindo of the Patriarchate of Antioch of the Syrians. In 2015 Fr. Jacques Mourad spent five months in the hands of the jihadists in Syria; Father Qusay Mubarak Abdullah Hano was born and raised in Iraq’s Nineveh Plain and was one of many exiles in Erbil. The challenges of reconstruction.

Rome () – Pope Francis yesterday gave his assent to the election of two bishops of the Syro-Catholic Church with extremely significant stories. Following the procedure of the Code of the Eastern Churches, the Synod of bishops of the Syrian Patriarchal Church of Antioch has appointed its own archbishops of Homs in Sira and of the traumatized Iraqi city of Mosul.

For Homs -the ancient episcopal seat of Emesa, which Pope Anicetus gave to the Catholic Church in the 2nd century (he held the chair of Peter between 155 and 168)-, the choice fell on Father Jacques Mourad, originally from Aleppo , who in 2015 spent five months in the hands of ISIS after being kidnapped in his community of Mar Elian, near the city of al Qaryatayn. A dramatic experience for this 54-year-old monk, co-founder, in another former monastery in Syria, of the Community of Mar Mousa together with Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, an Italian Jesuit who was also kidnapped by ISIS in the summer of 2013 and disappeared into nothingness, like thousands of Syrian war victims. In 2016 -shortly after his release- Father Mourad told in an interview with the PIME Mundo y Misión magazine: “In those days the meaning of my life changed. And the words of Charles de Foucauld “Father, I put myself in your hands”, acquired a new force for me”.

In this spirit – after living for several years in the monasteries of Cori, in Italy, and Sulaymanyah, in Iraqi Kurdistan -, Fr. Mourad returned last year to al Qaryatayn, in the diocese of Homs. And together with the local Christians who had been kidnapped with him, he began the difficult task of rebuilding, including that of the Mar Elian monastery -where the remains of Saint Julian, the great martyr of Emesa, are kept- which the jihadists had desecrated and destroyed. . “I told the Christians that the saint had saved and redeemed us, offering his monastery and his tomb for us.”

Father Jacques Mourad strongly desired this reconstruction as a sign of reconciliation. “Our work,” he says in a letter that he sent a few days ago from the Community of Mar Mousa – was crowned by the rededication of the church and the chapel carried out together by the Syrian Catholic Bishop of Damascus, Msgr. Jihad Battah, and the Syrian Orthodox Bishop of Homs, Msgr. Matta el-Khoury. The presence of the two bishops constituted a solemn act of reconciliation between the two Churches of Qaryatayn, which in the past had had strong disagreements over the ownership of the Monastery. Numerous priests from the Diocese of Homs and faithful from Qaryatayn and its surroundings also participated, as well as many friends of the Community. At the end of the mass on September 9, the feast of Mar Elián, the saint’s bones were deposited in the restored sarcophagus that had been destroyed in 2015. To everyone’s delight, two Christians and two Muslims from Qaryatayn carried the relics of the saint. It was a real wedding celebration and the Muslim community of Qaryatayn offered a lunch to all present, more than 300 people”.

Reconstruction is a challenge that also awaits Fr. Qusay Mubarak Abdullah Hano, 40, elected by the Synod of the Syrian-Catholic Patriarchate as bishop of Mosul, the Iraqi city that was the capital of the self-styled Islamic State. The Syro-Catholics of Mosul and the Nineveh Plain are historically the second largest Christian community after the Chaldean, headed since 2018 by Bishop Najib Michael Moussa. Precisely in Qaraqosh, one of the cities of the Nineveh Plain, the new Syro-Catholic bishop was born and raised. In the times of ISIS, when the jihadists burned down the episcopate of Mosul, Father Hano was one of the exiled Christians and exercised his priestly ministry with the displaced people of Erbil. He has now been called to take up the legacy of Mgr Youhanna Boutros Moshe, who led the Syrian Catholic community of Mosul through the long storm.

The task today remains extremely difficult. As the Syro-Catholic priest Raed Adel recounted a few days ago from Mosul to the Iraqi daily Al ‘Alam Al Jadeed, almost two years after the Pope’s visit only 150 Christians have returned to Mosul, less than 1% of the community that lived there before it was expelled by ISIS. Above all, the problem of Christian properties influences, which during the jihadist rule were sold and it is extremely difficult to recover. The same local authorities do little to stop the demographic change in the areas that were previously inhabited by Christians. This is another of the reasons why the episcopal ordination of Bishop Hano – which the Patriarch of Antioch of the Syrians Ignace Youssif III Younan will preside over on February 3 in the great church of the Immaculate Conception of Qaraqosh – will be an important sign for a Church that wants to recover its place in a land where Christians have a long history and a vocation that they do not want to abandon.



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Written by Editor TLN

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