The greatest challenge is to retain hope
Rome/Königstein, 11.06.2014. “We have never witnessed anything like it before. A large city like Mosul plunged into chaos and at the mercy of the groups that have attacked it”. That is how Chaldean Archbishop Amel Shimon Nona of Mosul has described to ACN the tragic situation facing Iraq’s second city, which has been under siege now for almost two days.
According to the archbishop, the clashes began quite suddenly, on Thursday 5 June. However, initially they were limited to some of the suburbs in the western part of the city. “The army began bombarding the areas concerned, but then, in the night from yesterday to Monday, the army and the police simply abandoned Mosul, leaving it at the mercy of the attackers.” Over half the inhabitants of the city and the entire Christian community immediately fled towards the nearby plain of Niniveh. “Up till five o’clock yesterday morning we were taking in the fleeing families, and we tried to find them somewhere to stay, in the schools, in the catechism classrooms, in the abandoned houses”, explained Archbishop Nona, who himself is now in Tall Kayf, a village about 3 km to the north of Mosul.
It is believed that the attack is the work of the Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), which is noted for the savage anti-Christian attacks it has carried out in Syria. However, Archbishop Nona believes that other groups may also be involved. “We do not yet know which groups are involved; some people are speaking of ISIS, while others think that there are other elements among them. We have to wait in order to better understand the actual situation. Undoubtedly there are extremists among them; many of them have been seen patrolling the streets.”
Obviously, the jihadist presence is a cause of real concern to the Christians, and in the last few hours in fact, news has already been coming in of attacks by ISIS on four churches and a monastery. “We have not received any threats”, the archbishop told ACN, “because by now all the Catholic faithful have abandoned the city. Who knows if they will ever be able to return there?” In 2003 the Christian community in Mosul numbered around 35,000 souls. In the 11 years that followed the outbreak of war this number had tragically fallen to around 3,000. “Now there is probably no one left there.”
“We are continuing to pray that our country may one day find peace”, insists Archbishop Nona, who in the last few days has been obliged once again to urge his faithful not to lose hope. “It is not easy after so many years of suffering, but we Iraqi Christians are strong in our faith and we have to retain our hope, even in persecution. It is an enormous challenge, above all after what has happened in these last few days.”