For the first time in four years the Christians of Iraq will celebrate Christmas in the Nineveh Plains, their ancestral homelands which were first evangelised by the Apostles in the years after the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Yet sadly bells will not be ringing for Midnight Mass in Mosul, a city that was the largest Christian conurbation in the region until it was overrun by ISIS terrorists in June 2014. Even with ISIS gone, it is simply too dangerous for Christians to return home.
“There are no Christians in Mosul and there is no intention to go back,” says Stephen Rasche, a Catholic lawyer from Boston who serves as director of resettlement programmes for the Chaldean Archdiocese of Erbil. “Right now, the Church has no plans to restore any of the Church properties in Mosul because we won’t put priests there, we don’t have people there. We just don’t think it is safe for Christians.”
The city, Rasche explains, remains in the hands of people who sympathised with ISIS.
“A lot of people who stayed in Mosul stayed there because they chose to stay, and they chose to live under that regime because it was a thing that they supported,” he says.
“They clearly had a rude awakening, but still the mentality of the people who stayed there is very much that Christians are not even second-class citizens, but third or perhaps fourth class.”
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