CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 22 September 2018

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Nineveh’s Christians renew their future

KARAMLES (AsiaNews): Four years ago, when the Islamic State (IS) rolled through Iraq, the “great exodus began,” with refugees fleeing towards Kurdistan to escape jihadi militias. For Father Paul Thabit Mekko, head of the Christian community in Karamles in the Niniveh Plain, “the return and the presence” of Christians stands in contrast, as they their attention towards the future with “new eyes and spirit.”
 
He said it deserves a prayer “of joy and hope” for the future of the local Christian community and the whole country.
 
In early July, hundreds of Christians attended Mass and took part in a procession in an atmosphere of peace, joy and recollection.
 
“(The) celebration was not the remembrance of an awful event,” Father Mekko explained, rather, “it was a time to read the past with new eyes and a new spirit, with a real hope. What seemed impossible has become possible and we hope that other steps will follow.”
 
Karamles “is moving towards the future” with “new ideas and projects to develop the area. The priorities are work as well as spiritual and social activities, to give new flavour to life after the devastation of IS.”
 
The priority, the priest notes, is reconstruction. With respect to housing, “we have reached 50-60 of our target—at least 400 out of 800, but some (houses) will have to be abandoned because they are too damaged.”
 
Another goal is to set up “small farms or food companies to guarantee employment,” he adds.
 
Plans also include wells, gardens and playgrounds for the town’s children and young people, as well as music classes, water works and summer recreational activities; moments to come together.
 
“We are studying ways of joining the Living Peace project, which is present in 153 countries. I met its founders in Portugal and I am trying to introduce it into catechism classes,” Father Mekko said.
 
“For the new academic year, the goal is also to involve state schools with both Christian and Muslim students. It would be a first concrete step to educate the children in Karamles schools about peace and then extend it to the whole country,” he explained.
 
Father Mekko was in charge of the Eyes of Erbil refugee camp, which was located on the outskirts of Erbil , the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. 
 
Following the rise of the Islamic State, the camp became home for hundreds of thousands of Christians, Muslims and Yazidis.
 
Last year, when the first Christian refugees came back to town, “a feeling of fear prevailed, whilst now we are returning, albeit slowly, to normal.”
 
To finish the reconstruction of the first batch of houses $11.7 million (US$1.5 million) is needed. Then there are the secondary projects that concern water with the construction of wells, as well as electricity through new power generators.
 
Father Mekko said, “The return of Christians, their number and their presence in the country remain a key factor for the future.” This means not only encouraging their return, but also provide them with greater autonomy and increase their participation in state institutions.
 
The Iraqi Foreign Ministry has announced that it is going to work with the Vatican to limit Christian emigration. 
 
“For Christians to remain, the government must ensure peace and tranquility,” Father Mekko explains, concluding, “We hope that more and more parishes in the world, especially in the West, will come and visit us and promote twinning as a tangible token of solidarity.”

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