The Christian community of Mosul is celebrating the elevation of a local parish priest to the position of Archbishop of the war-torn city. Najeeb Michaeel, 63, was inaugurated at Mosul’s St. Paul Church in an event attended by Middle Eastern church leaders, as well as some from the U.S., and the Christian community of Mosul.
Archbishop Michaeel entered the priesthood when he was 24 and has spent nearly 40 years serving the community of Mosul and the surrounding areas. In that time he has made unrivaled efforts to save various pieces of Christian history including nearly 850 ancient manuscripts in Aramaic, Arabic, and other languages, as well as 300-year-old letters and some 50,000 books.
In 2007, thousands of Christians fled Mosul due to an Islamist insurgency which threatened the entire city. To ensure the protection of this vast library, Archbishop Michaeel transferred the entire archive to Qaraqosh, once Iraq’s largest Christian city.
Seven years later, the Islamic State swept across Iraq destroying any and all cultural artifacts which did not align with themselves. As the IS turned their attention to Qaraqosh, Michaeel jumped to action again. He filled his car with as many rare manuscripts, 16th-century books, and irreplaceable records as he could fit and brought them to the relatively safer Kurdish region.
With the help of his fellow Dominicans, he also moved the Oriental Manuscript Digitisation Centre (OMDC), which scans damaged manuscripts recovered from churches and villages across northern Iraq. The Centre wound up in the Kurdish capital Arbil, where a team of Christian and Muslim experts have scanned and preserved thousands of Chaldean, Syrian, Armenian and Nestorian manuscripts.
Archbishop Michaeel was only able to return to Mosul in 2017, when Iraqi forces recaptured the city from IS. France 24 reports, when he found the ruins of his old church the rooms had been transformed into workshops for bombs and explosive belts and gallows had replaced the church altar.
Through all this turmoil, Archbishop Michaeel is hopeful for the future:
“I’m optimistic. The last word will be one of peace, not the sword,” He told AFP. “Our message to the whole world, and to Mosul’s people, is one of coexistence, love, and peace among all of Mosul’s different communities and the end of the ideology that Daesh (IS) brought here.”