300 Christian women visit historic monastery recaptured from Islamic State
300 women visited a historic monastery near Mosul after its liberation from the Islamic State. They went there with their parish priest to show that they were not afraid and that Christians in Iraq are here to stay. “We decided to go to San Behnam and Sara monastery because a lot of Christian people are afraid to go to this place because it is sometimes dangerous,” said Fr Roni Momika. He said the women wanted to go to the monastery “to pray for peace, for the soldiers, and for Christians all over the world.”
“Our message for everyone,” he said, “is that we want to proclaim the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit out loud and to tell the people we are here.”
Fr. Monika is a Syriac Catholic priest from who after he was ordained served in a refugee camp in Ankawa which held 5,000 families. After 18 months in the camp, he returned to his hometown two months ago after it was re-captured from IS by the Iraqi army together with 2000 Christian families. The other 3000 families are still in Erbil or surrounding villages.
Since returning to Qaraqosh, Fr Momika has been in charge of St. John the Baptist parish where he leads a women’s group every Wednesday with another priest, Fr.Younan. The two priests offer the women something different every week, ranging from lectures to reflections on scripture.
One week they decided to take the women for a 20-minute drive to Mar Behnam Monastery, about 23 miles southeast of Mosul. When Islamic State invaded the Nineveh Plains in 2014 they bombed parts of the monastery and destroyed the tombs of its saints Behnam and Sara, a brother and sister killed by their father after converting to Christianity.
Fr Momika said they were the first group to go to the 4th-century monastery since it was liberated from Islamic State. “We were so happy,” he said “and we had a special time. It was a good idea to take the women to this monastery because we have a special memory of this monastery because it’s our monastery.”
The monks have now moved back to Mar Behnam Monastery and are working to restore its war-damaged areas. It has not yet been reconsecrated after the destruction since efforts to rebuild it are still in the early stage but Fr Monika said the church “is good for prayer.”