A Catholic charity has hailed the re-opening of a convent in a village devastated by extremists as a sign that Christianity can once more flourish in Iraq’s Nineveh Plains.
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) helped rebuild the Dominican Sisters’ new convent and kindergarten in Batnaya which replaces buildings razed by Daesh (ISIS) during the jihadists’ occupation of the village from 2014 to 2016.
ACN (UK) national director Dr Caroline Hull, who visited parts of the Nineveh Plains seized by Daesh, said the new convent was a sign of new life in a town where militants had smashed altars, decapitated statues and daubed anti-Christian messages on church walls.
Dr Hull said: “Visiting Iraq, I saw the suffering of those forced out of their villages by armed extremists — which is why it is vital that we continue to help those who want to return to their villages to do so.”
“Batnaya became a ghost town after Daesh left and some wondered if it would ever thrive again — but the Sisters’ new convent is a sign that Christianity can flourish and have a future in the Nineveh Plains.”
Speaking at the consecration of the new convent last month, Chaldean Archbishop Paul Thabet of Alqosh announced it would give life and hope to the local Christian community.
He said: “The presence of the nuns in this village is a sign of encouragement for all the people of the village to return too…
“We Christians in Iraq have a deep wound, this wound must be healed by faith”.
He added: “We must have faith to rebuild the village, and you are a sign of that faith.”
Appealing for Christians who had left the village to return, Archbishop Thabet said: “Your name and identity are in Batnaya and your roots are in Batnaya, not in the places of emigration.”
Around 5,000 — mostly Chaldean Catholics — fled the village in 2014. Some went to IDP camps, while others emigrated.
ACN backed projects to help rebuild key buildings in the Christian-majority village, which was on the frontline of fighting between Daesh and coalition forces, included St Kyriakos’s Chaldean Catholic Church, which re-opened last Easter.
Widespread booby-trapping and an extensive underground tunnel system created by Daesh delayed the start of reconstruction work in Batnaya.
The Dominican Sisters returned in 2017 and began ministering to the families which had come back to Batnaya. Initially they lived in a house in nearby Telskuf provided to the order by a resident.
Stressing the importance of the Sisters’ witness, at the consecration ceremony on 18th December, Archbishop Thabet continued: “Consecration is a call through which God builds up the Kingdom of Heaven.
“Wherever monastics come, they can change the desert into a paradise, and the presence of the nuns and their coming to the stricken and demolished village is a sign of great reconstruction.
“We are not only rebuilding stones, we are restoring humanity.”
By John Newton