MSGR. NOËL CASTOMA is pastor of St. Joseph’s Syriac Catholic Church in Qaraqosh, on the Nineveh Plains in northern Iraq. While several dozen people from outside the community have been quarantined with an eye on preventing COVID-19 infections, the town itself has seen no coronavirus cases as yet. Nonetheless, the local population is affected by preventive measures, the closure of shops and businesses. Msgr. Castoma spoke with Aid in the Church in Need about the situation and the Church’s response:
“The COVID-19 pandemic is a catastrophe that has struck the entire world. We hope that doctors and specialists can find a cure for this deadly virus and that all people pay attention and adhere to official guidelines.
“God is love, and it is not possible for Him to rejoice in our torment. This disease is not from God; it is man-made or comes from nature. It is also a sign from God telling us now that we must return to goodness, turning away from evil. We must have hope despite widespread fear.
“COVID-19 is plaguing the world, but Iraq has already faced so much turmoil and suffering. We ask that God protect us from the virus and that our new prime minister will succeed in restoring us to normal. The Iraqi state is trying, but current preventative measures are not enough.
“There have been no injuries in Qaraqosh or Nineveh. We’ve taken precautions for our community’s health and set up a temporary site for medical care. In terms of food and other quarantine needs, our church is ready. We appreciate all the donors who contributed money, food and other goods to those affected by the crisis. We rely on our benefactors’ moral and material support.
“And we do not distinguish between Christians and members of other faiths. We are all brothers and sisters, and we help each other, especially in a crisis. Accordingly, we’ve offered assistance to the Muslim poor as well. We open our doors to all.
“The Church and its affiliated media have done a great job educating the community about the present dangers and the government’s measures. I liken the Church to the father of all believers, Christian or not. We currently feel the pain as result of the closure of our churches and the imposition of prayer at home. We hope to celebrate Mass publicly again soon. Until we can, Mass is broadcast online.
Every day we pray to God and ask our mother, the Virgin Mary, to save the entire world from the virus. We ask for the world’s safety, imploring Christ, who saved all human beings from sin. He managed to resurrect the dead and heal all kinds of disease. Our belief in him is great. He can end our crisis. And perhaps these difficult circumstances will reconcile us with God.”