On Friday 7 June in Qaraqosh, Iraq, a procession of clergy from Syriac; Chaldean and Latin traditions processed into the Church of the Immaculate for the episcopal ordination of a new bishop. The packed church resounded with the voices of a thousand women ululating as a sign of their rejoicing, for the new Catholic Syriac Archbishop Coadjutor of Mosul, Mgr Nizar Semaan, comes from a well-known local family.
The ordination was particularly poignant because the town still bears the scars of destruction after its three-year occupation by ISIS/Daesh. The Church of the Immaculate itself was set on fire and still has a scorched walls and blackened roof. The Islamists were finally driven out in October 2016
The Syrian Catholic Patriarch, Joseph Yonan III, had come from Beirut to preside at the three-hour ceremony. In his sermon he referred to the suffering that the people had endured: driven from their homes as refugees, they found on their return that they had to rebuild their lives. He encouraged them to stay, to continue to build up the churches because the Christian people of Iraq were part of the land itself. He advised the new bishop to have an open heart, to listen and to work with organisations in the community that were engaged in reconstruction.
Mgr Semaan was previously based in London for 14 years as pastor of Syriac rite Catholics in the United Kingdom. A priest of Westminster Diocese, Fr James Neal, read from Jeremiah during the ceremony, and another Westminster priest, Fr Richard Andrew, read an address from Cardinal Vincent Nichols.
The full text of the Cardinal's message follows:
Greeting for the Occasion of the Episcopal Ordination of Mgr Nizar Semaan on Friday 7th June 2019
Addressed to His Beatitude Ignatius Joseph III Yonan
It is with great pleasure that I address this message to you and to all who are taking part in this historic Episcopal Ordination of Mgr Nizar Semaan as your Coadjutor Archbishop for the Diocese of Mosul. I greet all who are present in the Church of the Immaculate, Qaraqosh, which bears so movingly the marks of the suffering and destruction of recent decades.
I write to assure you all of my prayers and those of the Diocese of Westminster and of all Catholics in England and Wales. From our visits to your lands, and through the careful following of all that has taken place, the Christians of your region, and especially our brothers and sisters of the Syriac Catholic Church, have a very special place in our hearts. Today we pray for you, for your peace and for your future which will ask of you all a greatness of heart.
Today we pray most earnestly for your new Archbishop Nizar Semaan. He is known and loved by so many here in England. We will miss his presence, for he has ministered amongst us for fourteen years, winning our respect and affection.
Dear Archbishop, it is most moving to think that today you are ordained a bishop in the very church in which you were ordained a priest all those years ago! Your heart, and those of your family, friends, fellow priests and people, must be full of emotion. The Lord has called you back to your home because he has plans for you, not plans that we invent or dream, but his will, written from all eternity and sure in its design and outcomes, if only we hand over ourselves to him. I am sure you will strive, each day, to do just that!
Today, I join you in earnest prayer to our heavenly Father that he will protect you all, guide you to rebuild his Church, in your hearts, in your homes and in your churches, with generosity towards all.
Dear Archbishop, may God bless you always!
Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster
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