Priests in Iraq are helping reconstruct around 13,000 homes in the Plain of Nineveh which have been damaged or destroyed by ISIS so that Christians will have a place to come back to. To accomplish this, the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has created a Commission for the Reconstruction of Nineveh.
Besides celebrating Mass, the priests also serve as surveyors and obtain electric service and materials for the reconstruction of homes. The first work is being done in places that ISIS occupied for a short time and where there is not a lot of material damage.
One of the members of this project is Fr. Georges Jahola, a Syrian Catholic priest from Qaraqosh. The priest told ACN that “here in Iraq if the Church doesn’t do these things, who’s going to do them? We have the capacity to act and do the talking, and also the contacts.”
The reconstruction of the Plain of Nineveh includes five Chaldean Christian villages: Badnaya, Karamlesh, Telleskof, Bakofa and Telkef, located in the eastern part. Fr. Salar Boudagh, another member of this initiative, said that $7,000 is needed to renovate a lightly damaged home.
To restore a burned home costs $25,000 and to reconstruct a totally destroyed home runs $65,000. “We have begun the reconstruction of Telleskof and Bakofa, because there damage to the homes is not too serious, as opposed to what is happening in Badnaya where 80 percent of the homes are destroyed,” the priest said.
“Before the arrival of the Islamic State 1,450 families lived in Telleskof, 110 in Bakofa, 950 in Badnaya, another 700 in Telkef and 875 in Karamlesh,” said Boudagh, who is also the Vicar General of the Chaldean Diocese of Alqosh. “For these families, the first condition to return to their villages is security.”
The priest emphasized that “our area, the eastern part of the Nineveh Plain, is controlled by a Christian security force, the Zeravani, who are guaranteeing us 100 percent security. It’s an official militia which is paid by Kurdistan.”
In Qaraqosh, 6,327 houses of Syrian Catholics and 400 homes of Syrian Orthodox Christians must be rebuilt. Jahola explained that after the liberation of Qaraqosh from the control of the jihadists, an operation which took place in November and December of 2016, 6,000 houses in the city were photographed.
These were divided into sectors and classified according to the level of damage. “There are very damaged or totally destroyed homes that would need to be rebuilt from the ground up, burned homes or hit by a missile that can be restored, and finally, there are homes partially damaged the we can renovate with little means,” he said.
“When we began we had a team of 20 volunteer engineers; now we have 40 and some 2,000 workers ready to begin work. We’re optimists, since electric service is slowly being restored throughout the city,” Jahola said.