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IRAQ – Iraqi Christians celebrate the feast of Mar Behnam, in the shrine devastated by jihadists

Fraternité en Irak

Qaraqosh (Agenzia Fides) – On Sunday 10 December hundreds of Iraqi Christians were able to take part in the celebrations for the feast of Mar Behnam (San Behnam) at the Shrine-Monastery where the relics of the Saint are kept. The Mar Behnam Monastery, a few kilometers from the city of Qaraqosh, in the Nineveh Plain, is being rebuilt after the massive devastation carried out by the jihadists of the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” (Daesh). The project to rebuild the important place of worship is supported in particular by the French association Fraternité en Irak. The large participation of the faithful in Eucharistic liturgies, celebrated outdoors, was an important sign of the will of the Iraqi Christians to return to live their daily life, marked by the feasts and celebrations of the liturgical year, in the places of its traditional roots.

The jihadist militiamen of the self-proclaimed “Islamic Caliphate” already in July 2014 had driven out the three Syriac Catholic monks who had officiated the monastery until the day before. Even some families residing at the monastery had been expelled. Since then, concerns have been expressed about the fate of the heritage kept in the ancient monastery, dating back to the fourth century and dedicated to the Assyrian martyr prince Behnam and his sister Sarah, which is one of the oldest and most venerated places of worship of Syriac Christianity. After a few months from the beginning of the jihadist occupation, as early as 2014 (see Fides 15/10/2017) the militiamen of Daesh had removed all the crosses and burned ancient manuscripts kept in the monastery. Then, in 2015, they had largely devastated it with explosives, and had not spared the Saint’s grave.

Last July (see Fides 17/7/2017), the Nineveh Plain Protection Units (NPU) had arrested some members of the so-called “Babylon Brigades” on suspicion of looting private houses and churches Christians, including the Mar Behnam monastery.
The Nineveh Plain Protection Units represent a local military organization, formed in part by native Christians and established in 2014 as a territorial self-defense militia.

The so-called “Babylon Brigades”, headed by Ryan al Kildani (Rayan the Chaldean), also claim their militia label composed by Christians, even if their connection with Shiite militias such as the People’s Protection Units is documented (Hashd al Shaabi) who also operate in the area. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 11/12/2017)

Saints Behnam, Sarah, and the Forty Martyrs

…were 4th-century Christians who suffered martyrdom during the reign of Shapur II. They are venerated as saints in the Oriental Orthodox Church and their feast day is 10 December.

Behnam and Sarah were born in the 4th-century in Adiabene, and were the children of Sinharib, an Assyrian king. Whilst hunting on Mount Alfafwith forty slaves, Behnam became separated from his entourage and was forced to spend the night on the mountain. He received a dream in which an angel instructed him to seek Saint Matthew, who lived on the mountain, as the saint could heal his sister Sarah, who was afflicted with leprosy. Behnam met with his entourage the next day, and they discovered Saint Matthew in a cave and requested he join them on their return to the city, to which he agreed.

Behnam and his entourage returned to the city ahead of Saint Matthew and told his mother of his dream and the saint. His mother allowed Behnam and Sarah to return to the saint in secret, and he healed Sarah of her leprosy, after which Behnam, Sarah, and the forty slaves were baptised and Saint Matthew returned to Mount Alfaf. Sinharib discovered Behnam and Sarah’s conversion and demanded they abandon Christianity. Stalwart in their faith, Behnam, Sarah, and the forty slaves, fled to Mount Alfaf, but were slain by soldiers sent by Sinharib.

Following his children’s death, Sinharib was afflicted with madness. Behnam spoke to his mother in a dream and instructed her to seek Saint Matthew, as he could heal the king. The queen took the king to the place of Behnam and Sarah’s death, where he met with Saint Matthew and was cured. Sinharib and his wife returned to Assur with the saint and were baptised. The king had a monument to the martyrs built at the place of their martyrdom, and, at the request of Saint Matthew, constructed a monastery on Mount Alfaf, which later became known as the Monastery of St. Matthew. Sinharib had the martyrs buried at the monastery atop Mount Alfaf. In the 6th century, a Persian merchant constructed a shrine to the martyrs alongside Sinharib’s monument, and would later develop into the Monastery of Saints Behnam and Sarah. Source: Wikipedia

IRAQ – Bishops ask for international protection for Christians in the Nineveh Plain

Mosul (Agenzia Fides) – The widespread statement released on Friday 12 May by three Syriac Bishops (a Syirac-Catholic and two Syriac-Orthodox) in northern Iraq, asking for the creation of a protected area reserved for Christians in the Nineveh Plain to be placed under international protection, to take away Iraqi baptized from sectarian persecution and violence, is causing embarrassment.

The Nineveh Province, scattered by Christian-majority towns and villages, was conquered by the jihadists of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (Daesh) between spring and summer 2014. In those months, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians fled from their villages in front of the advancing jihadist militia, finding shelter in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan.

The statement issued last Friday to regional and national authorities and to international organizations was signed by two Archbishops of Mosul – Syriac Catholic Boutros Moshe and Syriac Orthodox Mar Nicodemus Daud Matti Sharaf – and by Mar Timotheos Musa al Shamany, Syriac Orthodox Archbishop of Bartellah. The three Archbishops ask to transform the Nineveh Plain into an autonomous area under UN international protection to take it away from conflicts and safeguard the rights of Christian communities that have their traditional roots in those lands. The statement also claimed the right of administrative autonomy for Christian communities in the Nineveh Plain.

On Saturday, May 13, the Chaldean Patriarchate issued an official statement to underline that the statement released the previous day does not reflect the position of the Chaldean Church, and does not represent it. The Patriarchate’s statement refers to a recent statement by Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako. In that text, as reported by Agenzia Fides (see Fides 6/5/2017), the Primate of the Chaldean Church underlined that in this critical stage the priority for so many displaced Iraqi Christian is to try to return to their home towns. This implies the urgent need to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure, also taking advantage of international aid. But only after the return of stability in the Country, processes to require the creation of new autonomous administrative units can be initiated, such as instruments to protect the rights and continuity of minority ethnic-religious groups”. (GV) (Agenzia Fides 15/5/2017)

IRAQ – Teachers in the Nineveh province rebel against school programs imposed by jihadists

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(Agenzia Fides) – More than thirty teachers working in the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh, currently under the control of the jihadist Islamic State (Daesh), were stopped and arrested in the last hours for refusing to follow the new education programs imposed by jihadists in the schools of the region. The news of the arrests of “rebel” teachers was reported by local sources to the Kurdish media that monitor the north of Iraq, such as News Agency Ara. The teachers arrested will be judged by the Islamic court established by the jihadist regime, that in Iraq has its stronghold in Mosul. The judicial body may order the replacement of the teachers arrested with more docile teachers.

After the conquest of Mosul and the establishment of the Islamic State, the militants of Daesh have adopted to change the school curriculum to transform education institutions in bases for jihadist indoctrination of the younger generation. Philosophy, chemistry, biology and mathematics lessons have been banned, replaced by courses on Sharia and jihad. As reported by Agenzia Fides (see Fides 13/09/2014), already at the beginning of the school year 2014/2015 schools in Mosul and Nineveh Plain that had Christian names had to change, and the teaching of the Syriac language and culture and that of Christian religious education had been abolished.

The teachers’ revolt is still viewed by observers as a signal of the population’s intolerance towards the regime of the self-proclaimed Caliphate. (GV) (Agenzia Fides 07/01/2016)

IRAQ – Chaldean Patriarch: Pray For Liberation of Mosul And The Entire Nineveh Plain

 

Iraq

Baghdad (Agenzia Fides) – In all the Chaldean churches in the world, during Advent and during the daily celebrations, the faithful will pray to invoke the gift of liberation of Mosul and the entire Nineveh Plain, and ask for the rights of religious minorities living in Iraq to be guaranteed. These are the two prayer intentions that Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I suggested to Chaldean Catholics in Iraq and those in the scattered communities in the diaspora, with a message issued on the first Sunday of Advent.

In the text, sent to Agenzia Fides, the faithful are invited to pray so that the liberation of the Iraqi territories conquered by the jihadist of the Islamic State (Daesh) allow the displaced persons to return to their homes, and it is hoped that the desired protection of the rights of religious minorities materializes also in the modification of the law on the Islamization of minors (the legal text, strongly contested by religious minorities in Iraq, which effectively imposes the automatic transition to the Islamic religion of minors even when only one of the parents converts to Islam).

The city of Mosul has fallen under the control of the jihadists of Daesh since June 9, 2014. Almost two months later, on the night between 6 and 7 August 2014, the jihadi militias conquered many cities and villages in the Nineveh Plain, causing even the flight of tens of thousands of Christians, Chaldeans, Syrians and Assyrians. (GV) (Agenzia Fides 30/11/2015)

IRAQ: Islamic State “bans Christians from school”

Modern Exodus-Iraq

(AsiaNews) For the first time in history, Iraqi Christians who always had a “high standard of education” in the region, are being deprived of the right to study and cannot attend schools. This represents a further threat to the survival of the minority, not only in Iraq but throughout the Middle East, because there is not the risk that an entire generation “will not be educated”, which is a “very bad sign”.  The warning  comes from Msgr. Shimoun Emil Nona, Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul, in the north, the second most important city in the country and first city to fall into the hands of the militia of the Islamic State.

Interviewed by AsiaNews, the prelate confirms that “currently children from many of the refugee families” as well as “children who live in Christian areas” cannot start the school year. “There are about 700 schools scattered between Erbil, Ankawa and Zakkho – he explains – but they are hosting displaced people and are full. In other non-Christian areas  the lessons have begun, but not here”. Moreover in the areas occupied by the Islamic Caliphate  the curriculum has been changed to promote Islam and the Koran.

Msgr. Nona was the first to raise the alarm of the danger posed by the advance of the Islamists after the conquest of Mosul, where about 500 thousand people – Muslims and Christians – fled in early June to avoid being forced to convert to Islam.  It was also where the militants founded their caliphate and imposed sharia. In cities and in areas on the Nineveh plain that are under the control of the Islamic State schools have reopened. However, under the instruction of their leader the curriculum has changed to ban history, geography and literature; students must study Arabic and the Muslim religion and are forbidden to speak of the Republic of Iraq or Syria, only of the Caliphate.

An Mosul elementary school teacher of mathematics and Arabic states that “we are in 2014, but it seems have regressed 14 centuries.” 95% of the 2,450 schools in the area – Mosul and Nineveh Plain – are in the hands of the Islamists, who have forbidden mixed classes and have closed the Faculty of Law, because “conventional law is no longer in force.” Rigid rules, imposed by force, are increasingly arousing the impatience of the local population. If at first people saw them as liberators from a central government (under former Shiite Prime Minister al-Maliki) regarded as the oppressor, today 98% of the people – as reported by an academic in Mosul – “would like to see them gone as soon as possible” .

The archbishop of Mosul, who is also a refugee Ankawa, in Iraqi Kurdistan, cannot confirm this radical change of attitude towards the Islamic state and the distortion of the curriculum at the hands of the militia. He admits however, to “having heard similar rumors”, and there is a good chance that “they are true.” There are still some Christians in the city, but “very few” who live “isolated” and “in danger” because “anything could happen to them”.

Asia News

75% of Assyrians Return to Their Town in North Iraq

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Alqosh, Iraq (AINA) — More than 75% of the residents of Alqosh, an Assyrian town 37 miles north of Mosul, have returned to their town after fleeing from the threat of ISIS on August 7. On September 12 the residents celebrated the festival Mar Qardakh, the patron saint of Alqosh, at the Saint Qardakh the Martyr Church. The Holy Mass was led by Bishop Michael Muqadissi of the Alqosh Archdiocese and was attended by hundreds of people from the town. After the mass, the people walked around the Church in a procession lead by children and deacons.

Improvements in security in the Nineveh Plain has allowed the residents of Alqosh to return. Iraqi and Kurdish forces, with the aid of U.S. airstrikes, have recaptured several villages in the Nineveh Plain and are pushing toward Mosul.

Life in Alqosh is slowly returning to normal, but the economy has been disrupted. Civil service employees have not received their salaries for the last three months.

In terms of services, Alqosh did not experience interruptions in water or electricity, unlike other towns and villages nearer to Mosul, whose water and electric service was cut off by ISIS. A number of doctors and dentists also returned and began seeing patients in their private clinics. Stores, pharmacies and markets are open.

Faez Juhoory, District Director of Alqosh, who never left the town, said that most Alqosh families have returned to the town after the restoration of security, thanks to the Kurdish forces stationed south of the district.

Mr. Juhoory confirmed that basic municipal services are at the same level as before. A group of Alqosh youth, in the early days after the people fled, took on the task of keeping the town clean and watering trees and seedlings, using the municipality’s equipment. After the return of some of the municipal employees and contractors, only those who worked were paid daily wages. Funds were donated by the sons of Alqosh in the Diaspora.

After fleeing Alqosh, most families took refuge in the Assyrian city of Noohadra (Dohuk), which is further north, and the villages and towns surrounding it, and others traveled to Turkey.

AINA

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