Restoration of iconic church marks turning point for Iraqi Christians

  • Fionn Shiner and John Pontifex

Great Al-Tahira Church, Baghdeda - Jako Klamer/ACN

Great Al-Tahira Church, Baghdeda - Jako Klamer/ACN

A long-awaited decision to restore an iconic church in Iraq desecrated by Daesh (ISIS) - one of 14 repair projects agreed by a leading Catholic charity - has been hailed as a turning point in the struggle to keep Christianity alive in one of its most ancient heartlands.

Syriac Catholic Archbishop Petros Mouche of Mosul thanked Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) for committing to repair the Great Al-Tahira Church (Church of the Immaculate Conception), Qaraqosh (Baghdeda), the largest Christian town in the Nineveh Plains.

The plan to restore the church's fire-damaged interior is one of a series of building projects across Nineveh announced by ACN.

Speaking to ACN, Archbishop Mouche said: "For us, the Great Al-Tahira Church is a symbol. This church was built in 1932, and it was the villagers of Baghdeda who constructed it.

"For this reason, we want this symbol to remain as a Christian symbol to encourage the people, especially the locals of Baghdeda, to stay here. This is our country, and this is a witness that we can give for Christ."

ACN has also approved 13 other projects to rebuild church properties across the region - all of them damaged and desecrated by Daesh militants.

The charity green-lighted plans to reconstruct the Najem Al-Mashrik Hall and Theatre in Bashiqa, a town occupied by both Christians and Yazidis - a project which will enable the venue to once again play host to wedding ceremonies and other celebrations.

Local priest Father Daniel Behnam said: "This project will help ensure the survival of Christian families and provide them with important services. In particular, it will help young people, providing a space for pastoral, cultural and youth activities."

This latest tranche of ACN aid builds on the charity's 'Return to the Roots' programme to enable Christians to return to Nineveh following the defeat of the Islamists.

Central to the initiative is the repair of homes damaged by Daesh - of which 37 percent were restored by ACN.

ACN's backing of church building projects for the region was approved at a meeting of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, chaired by ACN Middle East projects director Father Andrzej Halemba, attended by Philipp Ozores, Secretary-General of ACN.

Archbishop Mouche said: "I would like to take advantage of this occasion to thank all the people who help, as these organisations can't help us without the support of their benefactors."

Christians in Iraq, who numbered 1.5 million before 2003, have declined by 90 percent within a generation.

Of the 120,000 Christians who fled the Nineveh Plains following the Daesh invasion in 2014, more than 45,000 have since returned.


Aid to the Church in Need

Aid to the Church in Need is a Pontifical Foundation directly under the Holy See. As a Catholic charity, ACN supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in need through information, prayer, and action.

Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope St John Paul II named "An outstanding Apostle of Charity", the organisation is now at work in 140 countries throughout the world.

Undertaking thousands of projects every year, the charity provides emergency support for people experiencing persecution, transport for clergy and lay Church workers, Child's Bibles, media and evangelisation projects, churches, Mass stipends and other support for priests and nuns and training for seminarians.

Aid to the Church in Need UK is a registered charity in England and Wales (1097984) and Scotland (SC040748). ACN's UK office is in Sutton, Surrey and there is a Scottish office in Motherwell, near Glasgow and another office based in Lancaster that covers the North-West.

Please always acknowledge Aid to the Church in Need as the source when using our material.

For more information, contact Senior Press Officer Dr John Newton on 020 8661 5167 or ACN Press and Parliamentary and Press Officer Fionn Shiner on 020 8661 5175.

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Tags: Iraq, Syriac, Archbishop Petros Mouche, Mosul, Aid to the Church in Need, ACN, Great Al-Tahira Church, Qaraqosh, Nineveh Plains

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