- Jan 18, 2020
No one knows right now what the future holds for the embattled Christians of the Nineveh Plains.
The Ninevah Plains, traditionally home to a large Christian community, is now “ground zero for the disputed territories between the Kurdish regional government and Baghdad.” Five Catholic and Orthodox bishops issued a joint statement appealing to the international community to protect the Christians of the area.
Speaking to Catholic bishops and clergy from Iraq, Pope Francis encouraged them not to give in to discouragement facing the challenges of helping Christians return after the devastation of ISIS occupation, and also delivered a strong plug for Iraqi national unity after a Sept. 25 independence referendum in which 93 percent of Kurds voted to split with Baghdad.
During the ISIS occupation of the Nineveh Plains, some 100 places of worship were destroyed, mostly Christian churches. Now, thanks to the support of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need, about 1,000 Christian families have returned to their homes. Among those seeking to go home are a group of nuns forced to flee the area they had called home for over a century.
A recent independence vote in Kurdistan has created the threat of new conflict in northern Iraq, and raised questions about whether this is the right time to be trying to rebuild the Christian presence in the Nineveh Plains. Ask Middle East Christians that question, however, and they’ll reply, ‘When exactly would the right time be?’
Despite a Sept. 25th independence referendum in which 93 percent of Kurds voted to break with Iraq, leading to border closings, threats of economic reprisals, and fears of military conflict, organizers of a push to rebuild Christian villages and towns in the Nineveh Plains, which straddle Iraqi and Kurdish territory, say that for now, they’re moving full steam ahead.