Mosul Christians and Muslims celebrate the reopening of the Archbishop’s See

After several dark and horrific years under the Islamic State (IS) group, Mosul has now turned the page. A new chapter is being written in the history of “the city, its people, especially the young,” said Archbishop Najib Mikhael Moussa, at the helm of the Diocese of Mosul since 2019, who last Thursday inaugurated the Archbishop’s See. 

“Starting tonight I shall live and sleep here,” he told AsiaNews with a hint of "pride and emotion”. It “is such great joy, as great as the mood was festive this morning at the ceremony” because finally "the bishop and his priests have a house in which to stay.” 

Under IS rule, Mosul was the stronghold of the Islamic caliphate, which left a trail of human, cultural and social devastations that will not be soon forgotten. Archbishop Moussa noted that under self-styled caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, IS destroyed 14 churches. For this reason, the wider community was eager to take part in the See's inauguration. 

The event took place in the presence of the local “governor, mayor, Muslim leaders, six or seven army generals, mullahs and sheikhs, tribal leaders as well as Christian families from Mosul,” the prelate noted. Representatives of seven NGOs, such as Œuvre d’Orient, also spoke at the ceremony; their associations helped rebuilding the See and the damaged churches. Additional assistance came from USAID along with help “from friends in America who have supported us through donations.” 

For the prelate, this was “a day of celebration and hope;” however, it was also important to feel “real joy in the hearts of Muslims,” the same who “helped us clean the churches”, thus renewing ties of sharing, starting with young people. "An elderly Muslim man asked me for a favour, to be the first to ring the church bells,” the archbishop said. But a lot remains to be done. 

“Christians lived in this land in the 7th century when Muslims arrived and welcomed them. Now, Muslims say, we are here and we want to welcome you as you did in the past.” Born in Mosul, Archbishop Moussa fled when IS forces advanced towards the city, first to the Nineveh Plain, then to Iraqi Kurdistan. 

In the past he oversaw the preservation and digitisation of more than 800 ancient manuscripts in Aramaic, Arabic and other languages, thousands of books and centuries-old letters. His tenacity in saving this cultural heritage from jihadi madness earned him a nomination for the 2020 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. 

With the Archbishop’s See inaugurated, the focus now should be on rebuilding the city. "So far only 10 per cent has been done,” he explained. “But to ensure that Christians return, it is necessary to focus on housing and jobs, in addition to security.” Some 60 families have already come back, but another 200 are waiting in the Nineveh Plains. 

For the prelate, the point of reference is Pope Francis’s call for fraternity last March during his visit to Mosul. To do this, “we must start with the poorest and neediest people”. Archbishop Moussa was happy to hear many Muslim friends ask him to leave the churches open so that they may pray to and admire the statue of the Virgin. 

However, reconstruction needs policies to counter radical ideologies in schools and places of worship. For the archbishop, “Educating children and young people is essential. We have had it with fanatics!”

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