IRAQ – “Religious co-existence will be difficult”
Archbishop Emil Shimoun Nona has spoken about the difficulties displaced Iraqi Christians will face when they return to their homeland. Nona took charge of the Chaldean Archdiocese of Mosul in 2010, becoming the youngest Archbishop of the Catholic Church. Today, he lives in Australia as Archbishop Emeritus and Bishop of the Eparchy of Saint Thomas the Apostle. Archbishop Nona not only deals with the many Iraqi Christian refugees in Australia but also keeps telephone contact with other Iraqi families scattered in many countries.
Although most of Mosul has now been liberated by the Iraqi army and Islamic State have been driven out of the region, Iraqi Christians have very little confidence in the future of this historically Christian area. The Christian community is almost completely extinct: in 2003, before the U.S. invasion, the Christians of the Archdiocese numbered 35,000; in 2004 they were reduced to 3,000 and today after the conquest of the city by induced the majority to flee, there are very few left. Many Christians have now emigrated beyond the borders of Iraq, hoping to create a new life for themselves after having endured persecution in their own country.
Nona says “I don’t think Christians imagined that they would return. It is necessary first to create the adequate conditions for a fitting life, guaranteeing human rights.” He believes it will be imperative to bring back the conditions for peaceful ethnic and inter-religious coexistence before Christians can return to the region.
However, several national and international interests will influence this objective. Uncertainity remains about how it will be possible to govern this province once IS is forced out, both from the political and economic point of view and also ethnic and religious coexistence.
Nona states “The only hope stems from the history of this land: every time that Iraq has fallen, it has been able to raise itself up again. Let’s hope that also this time it will be able to begin again as a democratic and free state.”
He admits it will not be easy to re-establish a peaceful coexistence and a relationship of trust between Christians and Muslims. IS enjoyed the support of many civilians, who collaborated with the Jihadists in their actions against the Christians. “Others even took part in the sacking of our homes,” said Nona sadly.
As a result “a profound wound was created in the spirit of Christians.” Nona believes only condition to create coexistence would be the presence of a strong Iraqi State, able to defend the rights of all, able to guarantee an education hostile to the formation of a terrorist mentality.
There are also practical considerations Christians must face if and when they return. IS damaged or destroyed almost all the churches and the infrastructure of this area virtually does not exist anymore. The majority of Christian properties were also looted or destroyed.
Nevertheless Nona thinks it may still be possible to create a new Christian presence in the region: “The Christian identity exists in every place in which there are disciples of Jesus Christ. It is not given by buildings but by men…. If in the future there is the possibility to return, we will certainly be able to create again a Christian identity in Mosul.”