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Iraq: ACN and local Churches, a “Marshall Plan” to rebuild Christian villages destroyed by Isis

“Iraq, going back to our roots”: it’s the title of an international conference promoted by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that will take place in Rome, September 28, at the Pontifical Lateran University during which will be presented a project for the reconstruction of 13 thousand homes damaged or destroyed by ISIS in the Christian villages of the Nineveh Plains. A veritable “Marshall Plan, with an estimated cost of 250 million dollars, aims to provide concrete answers to the wish of the Christian population of the Nineveh Plains “to return to their roots”

Chiesa distrutta da Isis - Piana di Ninive (Foto Sir/Rocchi)

Approximately 12,000 Christian families (about 95,000 people) – forced to flee from Mosul and the Nineveh Plains during the occupation of the Islamic State (ISIS) in the summer of 2014 – continue living as internally displaced persons in Erbil and its neighbouring areas with the support of the local Church and thanks to efforts of organizations such as the pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need. The terrorists of the self-proclaimed Islamic State brought widespread devastation:

almost 13.000 homes in 9 villages of the Nineveh Plains were either damaged, burned or destroyed.

All buildings were pillaged.

However, less than three years later, with the de-escalation of tensions and the liberation of villages by the Iraqi army and its allies, many Christians hope to make a safe return to their homes and to their lives. Particularly devastating damage and the presence of security-related problems in villages, Kurdish-Iraqi political maneuvers, infrastructure damage (electricity and water supply networks, roads …) make the situation very complex.

The yearning to return. In order to give concrete answers to the desire of Christians of the Nineveh Plains “to go back to their roots” past February the local Churches (Syriac-Catholic, Syriac-Orthodox and Chaldean) set up – with the support of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee – NRC. The Committee is composed of two representatives from each of the three Churches and by three experts (an expert in charge of communication, an administrator, and an internal coordinator), with the support of architects and engineers. NRC main tasks are well-defined:

“to facilitate and finance the return of Christians to their respective villages;

to plan and monitor the rebuilding efforts with reports on the use of funds; to inform the public opinion on the progress of the return of Christian families to Iraq; to urge governments and the international community to take the necessary political steps to ensure the respect of Iraqi Christians’ right to return to their homes.”

A “Marshall Plan” for Iraqi Christians. The reconstruction project of Christian villages in the Nineveh Plains, titled “Iraq, return to the roots”, will be presented on Thursday September 28 at Rome’s Lateran University on the initiative of ACN, which in the period 2014- June 2017 financed programs for Christians in Iraq amounting to approximately 30 million Euro.

“A veritable ‘Marshall Plan’ for Christians in Iraq – said Alessandro Monteduro, director of ACN Italy – with an estimated overall cost of 250 million dollars.” The estimate was made after having surveyed and documented the situation in the villages of the Nineveh Plains.

In their damage assessment Survey, teams of engineers catalogued the levels of destruction of approximately 13 thousand homes and schools, hospitals and religious buildings that were burned, destroyed or partially damaged by ISIS. The survey provides detailed data to calculate the costs of rebuilding.

The Committee will distribute the collected funds in proportion to the damages. Church property was severely damaged – as many as 363 totally destroyed, or partially damaged or burned: 34 churches, 6 chapels, 15 convents (active), 3 monasteries (contemplative), 6 shrines, 10 Presbyters (rectory) 2 bishops’ residence, 9 parish offices, 4 of the parish compound, 1 seminary, 6 centres for catechesis, 2 pastoral centres, 4 cultural centres, 3 open recreation areas, 4 sport centres, 1 liturgical sewing vestment, 21 multipurpose halls, 3 lecture halls, 3 Internet halls, 5 post-funeral reception halls, 4 wedding reception halls, 79 Church rentals (generic), 89 Church rentals (for shops), 7 orchards, 10 cemeteries, 13 kindergartens, 2 primary schools, 1 nursery, 2 orphanages, 1 clinic (dispensary), 9 libraries, 1 radio centres, 3 halls for other uses.

Three beneficial effects. “The value of this major project – said Monteduro, Director of ACN Italy uesto grande piano – is not only humanitarian. In fact its beneficial effects involve three major areas: the defence of the religious freedom of minority groups in Iraq, the fight on terrorism and the reduction of migratory pressure.” With regard to the fight on terrorism Monteduro pointed out:

“necessary prevention and repression activities must be coupled by efforts aimed at drying out the fertile grounds of Islamic radicalism: the return of the peaceful Christian community to the Nineveh Plains is an important step leading towards the social and cultural stability of the area.”

There ensues “a reduction of migratory pressure: Iraqi Christians wish to continue living in their lands; helping these families return to their homes thus means contributing to the decrease of social tensions related to the impact of migratory pressure on host countries.”

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