UK – Cardinal Nichols and Iraqi bishop bless crucifix that survived Islamic State occupation
At first sight, it appeared nothing had survived the devastation left by Islamic State in the ancient Christian lands of the Nineveh Plain in Iraq. But half buried in the rubble, outside St George’s Church near Alqosh was a crucifix – a battered wooden cross bearing a figure of the crucified Christ.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil met at Archbishop’s House in London to jointly bless this crucifix which had been found in the rubble by Stephen Rasche, chief counsel and projects’ coordinator for the Chaldean Catholic Church. Mr Rasche spotted it half-buried outside St George’s Church, in Baqofah village, near the Iraqi town of Alqosh.
The blessing ceremony was one of a week-long series of events for Archbishop Warda, organised by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). These included a private meeting with Prince Charles. ACN helped organise the loan of the crucifix for an exhibition of crosses at Westminster Cathedral in March.
Archbishop Warda was in Britain to raise awareness of the Return to the Roots programme, a scheme part-sponsored by ACN, enabling thousands of Christian families to return home to Nineveh, following the expulsion of ISIS from the region in November.
Earlier in May, an olive tree-planting ceremony was held to mark the beginning of construction of 105 homes in Nineveh Christian-majority towns Karamlesh, Qaraqosh and Bartella. A survey by Aid to the Church in Need showed that nearly 13,000 homes needed to be built.
In meetings and interviews, Archbishop Warda said home repairs were a priority in the nine Christian towns and villages affected, necessitating a delay in refurbishment of the 300 churches and chapels damaged and destroyed during the ISIS occupation of Nineveh.
Archbishop Warda is a member of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, which oversees the Return to the Roots scheme. The committee is also a key project partner for ACN’s emergency work for the 100,000 displaced people in the Erbil archdiocese and elsewhere in Kurdish northern Iraq.
In a message to ACN benefactors, he said: “Thank you very much for the help you have given to us in Erbil for your brothers and sisters from Mosul and the Nineveh Plains. It is because of your help that we still have Christians in Iraq.
“It is because of your help that we still have Christian families able to live in decent houses, getting proper medical help and much-needed food packages.”
Murcadha O’Flaherty – ACN UK