By Daniele Piccini
In an unprecedented act of ecumenical collaboration, three Iraqi Churches have joined forces to execute a plan to rebuild Christian homes on the Nineveh Plain.
Under the auspices of international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), on March 27, 2017, the Syriac Catholic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Chaldean Catholic Church—at a ceremony in Erbil, Kurdistan—formally established the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee (NRC).
The Committee is tasked with planning and supervising the rebuilding and repair of the homes of their respective faithful, which were damaged and destroyed during the occupation of the Nineveh Plain by ISIS.
The Committee is comprised of two members from each of the three Churches, as well as three outside experts. ACN will pursue advocacy and fundraising in support of the Committee’s formidable task: more than 12,000 homes need to be rebuilt, at a likely cost of more than $200M.
Funds will be allotted according to the number of homes belonging to faithful of each of the three Churches.
Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Timothaeus Mosa Alshaman of Antioch and prior of the Monastery of Saint Matthew, declared: “Today, we are truly a united Church—Syriac Orthodox, Chaldean and Syriac Catholic—united in the work of rebuilding these houses on the Nineveh Plain; and in restoring hope to the hearts of the inhabitants of these villages, inviting those who have left them to return.”
Father Andrzej Halemba, head of ACN’s Middle East desk, stressed that the establishment of the Committee is not first and foremost about finding funding.
“We have not done it for money,” he said. “We have done it to ensure that the Christians can remain in Iraq. We are working for God.”
Syriac Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Petros Mouche of Mosul declared: “I would like to invite the Christians of the Nineveh Plain to return to their homes and resume living in their villages, in order to bear witness to Christianity.”
“Today we join together to demonstrate that we are united in our wish to accelerate this operation as rapidly as possible, and that it must start as soon as possible.”
Saying that the courage of the three Christian Churches to work together is an echo of the courage of those Christians who have decided to stay on in Iraq, Chaldean Bishop Mikha Pola Maqdassi of Alqosh proclaimed: “This is a brave step forward, which gives us great joy and encourages the Christians to remain in their villages and their own country.”
Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Nicodemus Daoud Matti Sharaf of Mosul, Kirkuk and Kurdistan called on Catholics and all Christians around the world: “We are the roots of Christianity. We must remain in our country.”
“We must remain as witnesses to Jesus Christ in this country, in Iraq and especially on the Nineveh Plain. This task of rebuilding all the houses in those villages—where ISIS has destroyed everything—is truly an enormous challenge. Thank you in advance to all those who will help us.”
With picture of ACN project head Father Halemba looking on as Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Mor Timotheos Mousa Al-Shamani of Bartellah signs the ecumenical agreement establishing the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee (© ACN)
Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.