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6 Months after the pope’s visit to Mosul, a bell rings the hour of hope



I.Media - published on 09/21/21

In this interview, the parish priest of Mar Thomas speaks about why the new bell of the parish is the sign of a new beginning.

On September 18, the bell of the Syriac-Catholic parish of Mar Thomas in Mosul, Iraq, rang out for the first time since 2014. It was a new moment of jubilation and great hope for all the population, six months after the historic visit of Pope Francis to the martyred city.

The parish priest, Pios Affas, spoke with I.MEDIA about how the tiny Christian community is working today to rebuild what has been destroyed.

The new bell for your church was unveiled this weekend. An important moment for your community!

Fr. Pios: It was a great celebration, a moment of joy for all of us. So that you understand, this bell is the sign of a new beginning. Daesh destroyed everything, the structures, the altars, smashed the statues, burned the icons and our books … So on July 3, 2018, when I came back, I started to put things back on their feet, to embellish, so that our church truly would become again what it was before. The dream for us was to one day hear our bell again. All this restoration work was supported by the Fraternité en Irak association. It is thanks to them — whose organization was founded 10 years ago and which has done so much for Christians and Yazidis — that we were able to make this bell in Lebanon and bring it to our home. It cost $12,000.

What emotion did you feel when your bell rang for the first time, as it echoed all over the city?

Fr. Pios: It was a great joy because it is truly a sign of the presence of Christians, who have lived in Mosul for 2,000 years. Here there were Christians long before Muslims. And they were exiled from their city. The return of the bell also brings hope for the return of Christians. It is the first bell to ring in the city. There is no reason now that other churches should not be restored as well. I believe that the pope’s visit gave impetus to this desire for reconstruction. During his recent visit, French President Emmanuel Macron also promised to rebuild churches and mosques.

Yesterday, in the little speech I gave, I said that it is always more beautiful to hear the bells and the call to prayer of the muezzins together; when the prayers of the two communities unite to truly ask the Lord to bless and keep the people of Mosul, Christians and Muslims.

Did you invite authorities during the ceremony, in particular Muslim authorities?

Fr. Pios: Not yet, because I am waiting to definitively finish all the restorations of the church. Now we are working to restore the floor of the church to strengthen the foundations and redo the paving that was broken by Daesh. All the ransacking was done on these cobblestones, which still bear the mark of violence. It is a very big project: The Fraternity supports us by paying half of the budget. We are talking about a cost of $60,000, of which $30,000 was paid by Fraternity in Iraq. For our part, we called on expatriates to support this project.

In concrete terms, the ground must be dug down half a meter. A restoration in 1959 buried the bases of the columns. Then it will be necessary to lay cement, to consolidate, and finally to remake a pavement with the old paving stones of marble of Mosul — a well known and very beautiful marble! — that we have carefully removed and that we will put back. It is an artistic and archaeological work at the same time.

Six months later, is the pope’s visit still an important moment for your parish?

Fr. Pios: I think that the visit was above all a sign for the Muslims in the city, who must really be ready to receive and welcome Christians with dignity. We must unite to repair everything that has been destroyed by Daesh. May they open their arms to welcome Christians so that we can return to the time of fraternity and collaboration, to begin again to build together this very old and very important city.

What effect did the pope’s visit have?

Fr. Pios: He helped shake things up. I have to admit that during his visit to Mosul, I would have liked to have seen him come to our home in Mar Thomas. He chose to go to the ruins of destroyed churches, as we have seen. But here he could have seen an open church, where the Eucharist was celebrated again for almost two years. It would have been an important sign, a sign of the hope to see the city rebuilt and repopulated by Christians again. I compensated with a large photo of the pope that was put in the church in remembrance of this iconic visit to Mosul. Finally, the mere fact of setting foot in Mosul, of going to the ruins was important. The pope was moved, he cried, he delivered a magnificent and very important speech for the Muslim and Christian listeners present.

Today, where are we with the return of Christians? How many people does your parish have?

Fr. Pios: There is hardly anyone here today, barely 30 families have returned. Certainly, there are those who came for the inauguration of the bell, but today they live in Kurdistan. We organized the trip for them; they were happy. We think it will give them hope and courage to come back one day. Previously there were at least 300 Christian families. Their number began to decrease before Daesh, since 2000, with an immigration that first went from Mosul to the surrounding villages, then to Kurdistan or abroad.

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