As we reported last month, the long awaited operation to liberate Iraq’s second-largest city from the clutches of ISIS began on October 17. A coalition of Iraqi forces started the campaign to retake the pivotal city in hopes of ending a two-year occupation by the militant group.
The operation has made great strides, liberating many towns on the Nineveh Plain. A few Christians have started to return to the area and the sounds of church bells in these cities have signaled hope in the midst of such darkness.
However, as CNN reported, ISIS continues to sow seeds of terror, executing 300 men and boys and using local citizens as human shields. The road to reclaiming Mosul and the Nineveh Plain is far from over and even if military forces are successful, the situation presents new challenges for Christians who want to return.
One such group discerning their future in Iraq is the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, currently living in Irbil, Iraq. They recently sent out a letter to their supporters, asking for prayers in light of the recent situation.
The sisters explained, “It has been two years and four months since we left Nineveh Plain. It has been long time of displacement, of humiliation, of exile… There are many Christian militants among the army, and some of them we know. So, they have been sending us photos of our Christian towns that are being recaptured. The photos are so very disturbing, as they are showing our churches, homes, schools, and convents, hospitals burned and destroyed after they had been looted. We were shocked that our cemeteries were dug: Is it possible that even the dead did not survive their cruelty?”
While being thankful that their towns are being liberated, there are many questions that will need to be answered before any hope of return. For example, the sisters ask, “To whom will we, as people and land, belong? This is because there are different forces that are fighting to clean the land. There are Kurdish army, Iraqi army, Nineveh Plain Protection Units, and others. Hopefully, our lands will not be disputed land. That is another issue to be worried about.”
Additionally, even if the towns are secured, there will be a long road of rebuilding from the immense damage from the war. Roads, and buildings are all destroyed and there is no infrastructure that can assure residents everything will be restored.
The sisters are worried that after the dust settles, there will no longer be a place for them in an area they used to call home.
To conclude their letter, the sisters explained their plight and the plight of so many Christians in Iraq and asked for urgent prayers, “On one hand you see people frustrated and want to leave the country, on the other hand, you find people who are eager to return and rebuild their houses no matter how damaged. Some people are tired of the unfinished situation, and some people are ready to go back and start from zero. We are just waiting for the ‘decree of Cyrus’ (that allowed the Jews to return from exile) to be announced again allowing us to return and build again our churches and houses.”