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Iraqi nuns prepare return to Mosul, three years after ISIS expelled them

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"Nothing is impossible with God," Dominicans say as they set sites on destroyed city

The Dominican Sisters who work among the Christians of northern Iraq have announced their intention to return to the shattered city of Mosul, even as there is doubt in some quarters about the future of Christianity in that city, recently liberated from the Islamic State.

“Mosul has been liberated, but the amount of destruction is overwhelming in every field,” said an unsigned letter on the website of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena. The letter was dated Aug. 6, the third anniversary of their displacement from Mosul and several Christian towns on the Nineveh Plain to Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. “It will take years to be fixed, but there is nothing impossible with God.”

The letter acknowledged that “it is not easy to decide whether to go back to Mosul or not. Some people still try to understand what the will of God is. If ISIS is defeated that does not mean that the Plain of Nineveh is entirely cleansed from that mentality.”

That sentiment was expressed recently by an Assyrian priest who runs the Christian Aid Program of Northern Iraq. Father Emanuel Youkhana, speaking on the sidelines of a UN conference in New York, told Aleteia that the “environment and the culture and the mentality and the ideology” of ISIS are still present in Mosul and will remain for some time to come.

But the Dominican Sisters said that they “as community decided to return with our people” and that they pray and hope all people will have the courage to go back to their hometowns and be able to start from the beginning again.”

“God is with us and will not leave us,” they wrote.

The letter described the nuns’ emotions when they began to go back to towns on the Nineveh Plain where they had lived and which were liberated by the Iraqi army ahead of the Mosul campaign.

When we first visited our Christian towns, we were so much stunned by the damage we saw. It was badly painful to see all that overwhelming destruction. We immediately realized that it was not the military forces or smart weapons that caused all that damage, but hate. Hate leaves both oppressed and oppressor deeply winded. Only God knows how much love we need to heal these deep wounds.

They said the rebuilding process has started and, although it is slow, it has allowed some families to return home:

In Batnaia, a town that was 90% destroyed, a process of cleaning has started. To Telskuf and Qaraqush, Christian towns, some families have returned and there are families returning every week. There are over 600 families today in Telskuf and 450 in Qaraqush. Telskuf was much less destroyed than Qaraqush. Although in Qaraqush the amount of destruction is estimated to be 30%, rebuilding is not easy and the NGOs that have afforded to help with rebuilding are not enough compared to the destruction. There are 7000 home in Qaraqush and 2400 of them are completely burned and another 4400 are partly burned and destroyed, there are 116 house completely destroyed. The hope is to repair as many houses as possible before the beginning of the school year in September, but of course there is a problem with the funding. So far only the church and some NGOs are doing the rebuilding. Our sisters are back to Telskuf and we hope to find a place by the beginning of the year and will start a kindergarten. Soon also we will return to Qaraqush. Since our convent in Qaraqush is partially destroyed, we repaired a family home for us to live in it until we move back to our convent. Also, the orphanage was totally burned but we found a place for the sisters and girls to move too in Qaraqush.

Several Catholic organizations are assisting in the rebuilding, including Aid to the Church in Need and Catholic Relief Services. At its recent international convention in St. Louis, the Knights of Columbus announced it will raise and donate $2 million to save Karamdes, a predominantly Christian town on the Nineveh Plain which was liberated from ISIS late last year. “The Knights’ action will move hundreds of families from minority religious communities in Iraq – especially Christians – back to the home,” according to a press release on the fraternal order’s website.

The Iraqi Ministry for Migration and Internal Mobility reported that more than 250,000 people have returned to their respective areas of origin in Nineveh Province, Fides news agency reported July 31.

“Christians admit they are fearful of the situation surrounding them because nearby villages house people who are not too open to them,” said Marialaura Conte, communications director of the AVSI Foundation, an Italian-based organization that works in Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, as well as more than two dozen other countries.“But this fear doesn’t stop them. I could also see that the children initially are a bit disoriented when coming back.”

“It’s very important for these children to have places created where they feel comfortable,” Conte told Catholic News Service. “We are rebuilding a preschool/kindergarten in Qaraqosh for this very reason, so the children can feel safe and the adults will feel secure while they reconstruct their homes and organize their lives once again.”

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