Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, reported that the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) turned the Catholic cathedral in Mosul into a mosque.
Cardinal Nichols celebrated the Orthodox Easter Vigil Mass with the Bishop of Erbil, Emil Shimoun Nona, and refugees from Mosul. Nichols “heard their Bishop encourage them to be hopeful, to be courageous, to be ready to build again,” even though he knows exactly what the terrorists are doing to their beloved churches:
And this bishop knows that his Cathedral in Mosul is being desecrated and vandalised and provocatively turned into a mosque. He knows it because the ISIS fighters regularly send him photographs of what they are doing. But his faith and courage are undiminished.
The Islamic State captured Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in June 2014. For over 2,000 years, the city boasted a large Christian population, which lived peacefully among the Muslims. In only a few days, ISIS wiped out the Christian community by forcing them to leave or be murdered. There are reportedly no Christians left in Mosul.
In August, 125,000 people descended upon Erbil looking for shelter and food. The city welcomed and attempted to provide for them. Cardinal Nichols recently spent two days in the community. He reports that “the progress made is remarkable” and credited “the efforts of the Catholic churches, both here and abroad.” He also noted, “[M]any others have helped financially, led by aid agencies.”
Families live in mobile containers “in five of the numerous centres.” The adults find work while education is in place for the children. He said the community refused to allow these people “to sink into a status of being victims.” The center does not allow alcohol or violence. The leadership expects families to cook for themselves, pay rent if possible, and encourage children to participate in chores. Cardinal Nichols applauds the center for its use of “tough lough” since “the effect of their brutal displacement has left many traumatised.” ITV reports:
The interim aim is to give them their dignity as parents, education for children and a home, however makeshift and temporary.
This approach is enabling families and communities to stay together and try to maintain a semblance of normality and family life. But what was made repeatedly clear was these families want to go home. They want to go back to their houses and land.
The aid agencies’ efforts are considerable and helpful in desperate circumstances. More is needed. For this to happen, territories have to be liberated, a new rule of law established and a shattered social network rebuilt.
When they do return, nothing will be normal. ISIS burned down the Mosul public library, which was home to over 8,000 rare books and manuscripts. After that raid, the militants targeted the library at the University of Mosul. They burned science and culture textbooks in front of the students. Iraqi Father Najeeb Michaeel and Texan Father Columba Stewart attempted to save as many manuscripts and books as they could in Mosul.
ISIS also destroyed all Christian institutions in Mosul. The militants proudly taped the moments they destroyed and desecrated churches in the historic city. They even destroyed Jonah’s tomb, a prophet loved by both Christians and Muslims.