.- The new Archbishop of Mosul, replacing his kidnapped predecessor who died in captivity, says his mission is to give “hope and confidence” to persecuted Iraqi Christians who face bombings, killings and other pressures to leave the city, an ancient center of Christianity.
The 42-year-old Archbishop Amil Shamaaoun Nona replaces Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, who was kidnapped outside his cathedral nearly two years ago and died ten days later. The new archbishop, formerly a priest of the nearby Alqosh diocese, was installed in his cathedral on Jan. 22, about two weeks after his episcopal ordination.
In a statement to the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Archbishop Nona responded to the ongoing killings, abductions and bombings targeted at churches and other Christian centers across Mosul.
“My new mission is to provide hope and confidence to the Christians in Mosul, making them aware of the presence of a father and a minister beside them in their present plight.”
Since anti-Christian violence and intimidation surged upward in 2003, he told ACN that the Chaldean-rite Catholic community in Mosul has dwindled by two-thirds and now numbers as few as 5,000 people.
The decline in numbers may force Christianity in Mosul into obscurity.
“When all the wealthy people who own businesses, investments and factories leave the city, those who remain will have an effect that is negligible,” the archbishop wrote.
Christians have fled in response to increasing victimization. They are considered easy targets in clashes between the city’s Kurds and Arabs. There is also growing evidence of Al Qaeda and other extremist activity in the region.
Archbishop Nona pled that Christians be left in peace and left out of the political struggle in the region.
“We need to carry our cause as Christians to the influential countries so as to exert pressure on the conflicting political powers in Iraq not to use us to gain some political benefits,” he told ACN. “That is what is happening now.”
ACN described this comment as an “oblique reference” to the upcoming general elections in March.
There are reports that attacking Christians is a tactic of radical groups seeking to attract international attention, according to the charity.
“What is required is an international pressure on the strong and influential parties in Iraq to keep us away from their struggle for power,” Archbishop Nona said.
He stressed that police protection was in place at every church and priests’ house.
A surge of anti-Christian violence and killings has happened in Mosul, especially over Christmas.
Bombs have exploded at several churches, including a blast at the 1,200-year-old St. Thomas’ Church (Mar Toma) on the day before Christmas Eve. Two people were killed and five injured in that attack, ACN reports.
The Latin-rite Archbishop of Baghdad Jean Sleiman has decried a “media silence” about persecution of the Church in Iraq.
“Let us break the wall of silence that surrounds the killing of Christians in Mosul and in Iraq,” he told SIR news agency in a recent interview.
“Christians are killed in Mosul, while the State does nothing. The forces of order serving in the places of the attacks and killings don’t see, don’t hear, don’t speak.”
Archbishop Nona told ACN that the Church was the only source of hope for many Christians in Mosul.
“The only thing that the faithful are still adhering to is the Church,” he wrote. “For this reason, the Church, represented in the person of the bishop, has to care for its followers and help them feel secure through its presence in them and among them.”
Mosul is on the Tigris River and has been linked to the biblical Nineveh. It is seen as the historical heartland of Christianity in Iraq and traditionally has had the largest number of Iraqi Christians.