23,000 Christians reported returning to Iraq after Pope's visit

Author: Cara Bentley

Publication Date: 7/4/2021

Source: Premier

Thousands of families are said to be returning to Iraq, just a few years after the towns were taken over by ISIS and Christians killed.

Pope Francis' visit to Iraq has apparently given hope to Iraqi Christians returning to their homeland after fleeing years of violence.

Qaraqosh, in the Nineveh Plains, is Iraq's largest Catholic town, 20 minutes from Mosul, and it had a population of 55,000 before it was occupied by ISIS for two years.

According to priest Father Ammar Yako, who runs a centre for displaced families, 23,000 Christians have already returned.

Fionn Shiner, parliamentary and press officer for religious freedom charity Aid to the Church in Need told Premier the fleeing goes back further for some: "In Saddam Hussein's time, he did a census and there was 1.4 million Christians there's now thought to be less than 250,000. This movement away from Iraq really picked up during the Iraq War in 2003 and then with ISIS' invasion of the Nineveh plains, that really sent it into turbo drive."

However, exactly one month on from the papal visit, which took place in Baghdad, Mosul, Ur and Erbil, other people in the mainly Syriac Catholic town of Qaraqosh have reported that the Pope's visit has caused people to consider a return.

Speaking to ACN, Revan Possa from the Qaraqosh reconstruction board, said: "We have heard about families from Qaraqosh who cried when they saw photos of the trip and are thinking about returning home.

"We need safety and support from the West to stay here. I like this land and I want to stay here."

Joseph Guiliana, a teacher and author who returned to Qaraqosh after life as a refugee in France, said the papal visit reminded Iraqi Christians they have a right to live there.

He said: "We needed this visit to fill us with hope again: the hope that we have the right to stay here as the original people of this land.

"For Christians here, as well as those living as refugees in Europe and America, we all think that this visit gives them hope of life for Christians in Iraq. I am one of them.

"With the Pope's visit, we feel that we are not alone. We feel that we are safe because someone cares about us."

Father Araam Romel Qia, a Chaldean Catholic priest in Batnaya, has warned that Christian persecution won't be stopped without Western support.

He said: "The suffering of Christians continues, as long as there is an Islamic constitution that does not protect the rights of Christians and other minorities.

"The persecution of Christians and minorities will continue as long as there are militias and a weak government. We hope for continued support from the international community."

Fionn Shiner from ACN also told Premier what it could look like for those who have returned home: "Life for Christians back in Iraq is going to be one of very, very cautious optimism...our faith is is fundamentally a faith of hope and of joy but also we have to be prudent.

"I think the thing to pray for is just that Christians in Iraq can return to their home and that they can live a life of peace and prosperity. You've got ties the Apostolic times and we really would like to pray just that we don't lose that link on our watch."

Link: https://premierchristian.news/en/news/article/23-000-christians-reported-returning-to-iraq-after-pope-s-visit

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