We hear about the “enormously large city” of Nineveh in today’s first reading (Jonah 3). Nineveh was the largest city in the world for many years and was a capital city in the Assyrian Empire. It is located in present-day Iraq, commonly known as part of Mosul. I was recently reading about Nineveh and the work that the Knights of Columbus are doing to restore Christianity in post-ISIS Iraq. This has brought much encouragement and hope to those Christians who have been terribly persecuted and exiled, of course, but also to those of us who have been praying for them for years. Here are excerpts from an article, “Iraqi Christians Return Home” (koc.org, 11/1/17).
May you know the peace of Christ,
The photograph on the floor of Sabhia Franco’s destroyed house in Karamles recalled more peaceful times in Iraq. The black and white picture showed a crowd watching a float passing in a parade. Atop the float is a cross standing beside a mosque. “Peace comes to a peaceful community “is written below. On the back of the photo in blue ink: “Mosul Spring Festival 1970. “
Franso said those memories have now been replaced by the horror of more recent events. The 66-year-old woman and her 85-year-old husband were among the last of the nearly 10,000 inhabitants of Karamles to leave after Islamic State fighters overran their village on the Nineveh Plain in August 2014. Robbed at gunpoint and then forced to flee on foot, they have spent the last three years living nearly 50 miles to the east in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
Now, with ISIS driven from northern Iraq, they are among the first families to have returned to their ancestral homeland, thanks in large part to an initiative launched by the Knights of Columbus at the 135th Supreme Convention in St. Louis Aug 1…
A newly erected cross stand in a Karamles plaza that was devastated by Islamic State militants who had overrun the town until it was liberated in October 2016.
…Since 2014, the Order’s Christian Refugee Relief Fund has donated more than $13 million in humanitarian assistance, primarily in Iraq, Syria and the surrounding region.
“Without the help of the Knights of Columbus, the Christians of Iraq would have disappeared, “said Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda of Erbil, under whose auspices much of the refugee relief has been provided.
The K of C initiative to resettle and rebuild Karamles is part of the Nineveh Reconstruction Project, administered in partnership with the international papal charity Aid to the Church in Need as well as local Christian communities.
In October last year, at the start of the military operation to liberate Nineveh province, Iraqi security forces drove the Islamic State from Karamles. Nearly nine months later, in early July, the remaining fighters were dislodged from Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, located just 20 miles west of Karamles. Today, only isolated pockets of Islamic State resistance remain elsewhere in Iraq.
In September, the government restored electricity to Karamles, though as with other towns across Iraq service has been patchy.
“Water is on for six to eight hours a day, “said Father Thabet Habib Yousif, who is overseeing the restoration of the town from a busy church hall filled with paint, plaster and plumbing fittings.
…Already, more than 120 families are back home, living in houses that have been restored through the K of C-supported Nineveh Restoration Project.
“This project has had an immediate impact on the displaced people from Karamles, “Archbishop Warda said. “Before, most of these people were completely filled with uncertainty. They wanted to move back to their homes, but most of them had no money to repair them. This project has allowed them to begin moving back as a group, which has made all the difference. “
Calling the project, a “tremendous success, “Archbishop Warda added that more help was critical. “We still have several more towns that need a project like this in order for them to be stabilized enough so that the long term rebuilding of viable communities can take place.“
After local militias known as the Nineveh Protection Units, consisting largely of Assyrian Christians, took charge of security for the village and nearby towns, his family was not afraid to return.
“We have faith in God, “he said, “and also the guards who protect the village. “
… “We’re sleeping easy with the security, and there’s electricity and water, “ (Shafiq Shabi) said. “This is a happy ending to a sad story.”