Fr Paul talks about the many families from North America and Europe who have come back for Holy Week. Heavy rains are hindering the celebrations, but the desire to participate is very strong. A father brought his daughter from Canada to Mart (Saint) Barbara shrine in Karamles to baptise her. “We must stop looking back and think about the past, about the Islamic State,” says the clergyman. “We must build a future here, in this land, and help those who have left to come back.”
Karamles (AsiaNews) – Christians in Mosul and the Nineveh Plain, forced to flee in the summer of 2014 by the Islamic State (IS) group, are preparing for Easter, hopeful of "putting roots back in their land of origin,” said Fr Paul Thabit Mekko, head of the Christian community in Karamles (Karemlash), northern Iraq.
Dozens of "diaspora" families from "Canada, the United States and Europe" have returned this time of the year "to participate in the celebrations of Holy Week, amid prayers and celebration," the clergyman told AsiaNews.
This week, several events are planned, including the Way of the Cross and celebrations of the Eucharist in the various communities scattered around the Nineveh Plain. After the exodus of hundreds of thousands of people, about half of Christian families (almost 42,000 people or 45% of the total) have come back to their native villages following the wreck caused by IS.
In many places, like Qaraqosh, Bartella and Karamles itself, the reconstruction process continues - albeit at a slower pace and amid huge economic difficulties. About 6,500 homes (out of 14,000) have been restored or built anew.
This is the third time Christians can celebrate Easter in their villages after the liberation of the Plain thanks to a joint Arab-Kurdish offensive. However, if the first year was largely symbolic and last year the churches were not usable, this year people hope to be able to relive the atmosphere and sense of participation of the past.
"Palm Sunday is an important moment,” said Fr Paul, “because in the villages in the Nineveh Plain we were able to hold processions. There was a large turnout at Qaraqosh. In Karamles too, there were numerous faithful who did not want to miss meeting the new Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, Mgr Najib Mikhael Moussa, who led the celebrations and the message of faith and hope."
The main thing though, said the clergyman, was "the return of many of our people who live in Canada, the United States, Europe, who came precisely to participate in Holy Week celebrations. This is a good sign, and more are still coming for Easter.”
"One person originally from Karamles but in Canada for many years wanted to come back to celebrate his daughter's baptism. The ceremony was held at the Saint Barbara shrine, a place dear to all local Christians. Many Diaspora families have decided to bring their children and grandchildren, to rediscover their roots, their bond with their land.”
Having put the IS madness behind, this year’s “threat” comes from the “bad weather and heavy rains” that have hit Iraq and Iran, causing billions in damages.
"Lots of rain, a strange spring,” said the clergyman. “Last night we had a real deluge. Bad weather has hindered various celebrations, especially processions and other outdoor events. Nevertheless, the atmosphere was really beautiful and life is coming back."
For Palm Sunday, said Fr Paul, “we defied the weather to ride our bicycles and renew with an ancient tradition: that of planting blessed olive branches in the fields, a ritual that farmers have done for decades. This is a sign that we belong to this land, that we decided to stay, which we want to strongly reassert.”
Of course, problems persist: the economy is weak, there are few jobs and much depends on next year’s harvest to revive farming. "We need jobs, trust but above all security. I must admit though that lately the situation seems calm.”
Finally, for Fr Paul, "We must stop looking back and think about the past, about the Islamic State, or consider ourselves refugees. We must build a future here, in this land, and help those who have left to come back.”