A three-day long gathering was held in Qaraqosh in an effort to empower and lend spiritual support to the Christian women of Iraq. The event, which drew around 4,500 people, was inspired by the newly instituted Marian feast day, the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, which was recently added to the Church calendar by Pope Francis.
The meeting was organized by Fr. Roni Momika, who was ordained a priest while living in a refugee camp after fleeing Qaraqosh in 2014. Fr. Momika is the pastor at St. Ephraim church in Qaraqosh, where he runs a women’s support group, which draws nearly 800 women weekly. He explained to CNA that, “This meeting is to empower women.” He added that the goal was to “rebuild women in the spiritual side, in the biblical side and in the psychological side.”
It is a long road to rebuilding the Iraqi infrastructure, much of which was burned beyond repair. One obstacle they face is the sheer magnitude of the destruction, while another is a gross lack of funding. According to Fr. Momika, this lack of funding is of little consequence, since their reconstruction needs to begin with Iraq’s women:
“Everything is difficult here and we want to rebuild the woman before we rebuild the houses,” he said. “If you rebuild the woman, you can rebuild the children, and when you rebuild the children, you can rebuild the family, and after that we can rebuild the community here in Qaraqosh,”
The three-day assembly featured lectures, videos, Mass, and time for the community to interact. They also commissioned the writing of a new icon of Mary, in which she is depicted wearing the traditional garb of women from Qaraqosh.
On the final day of the gathering Youhanna Boutros Moshe, Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Kirkuk, and Kurdistan, celebrated mass and led the crowd in a procession to the city’s cathedral.
This was the first such event held since the liberation of Qaraqosh, in 2016. Prior to ISIS’s invasion, Qaraqosh was known as the Christian capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, with a population of 50,000. Now, according to Momika, about 20,000 people have returned to the city, the majority of whom belong to the Syriac Catholic rite.
Along with the return of the citizenry, Qaraqosh has seen the return of something equally as important to the reconstruction of a community: Hope.
Fr. Momika praised the resolve of his people:
“We want to send a message that ISIS burned the stone but they cannot burn the soul and they cannot burn Christianity and our faith,” he added. “Our faith is big [in] our Jesus Christ and his Mother, the Virgin Mary. This is the message.”