“Yes, there were gestures of solidarity from Muslims towards persecuted Christians. Also in Mosul, when we were expelled some escorted out of the city the Christians families who had everything stolen. But we have great bitterness in our hearts because more numerous were the cases when our own neighbours, people with whom we lived together and often shared the bread, were the first ones to plunder our houses and take our stuff.”
From Alqosh, a Kurdistan town where he was the parish priest, the voice of Monsignor Amel Shamoun Nona, 46, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, wavers slightly. But it is what he says, not the tone of his voice, which remains calm and resolute. As might be expected of a bishop who arrived in Mosul, a centre with 1,200 Christian families, in 2010, after his predecessor was kidnapped and murdered, and then he had to face a series of murders against Christians. The first to be killed was the father of a young man who at the time was praying in church with him. And it was then that he decided to condense the motto of its own bishopric in one word: Hope.
“These days,” says Archbishop Nona, “my main goal is to visit all the towns of Kurdistan where Christians have taken refuge to let them know they are not alone, that they should not lose hope. I try to understand their needs, and naturally distribute aid coming from the Vatican and from other international organizations. “
What are the most urgent needs of these people?
“It is impossible to classify their needs. They are thousands and thousands of men, women and children to whom everything has been taken away, even their wedding bands or critical medicines for their health that they tried to take with them. Whatever comes to mind, they lack: from water for drinking and washing to food, sleeping blankets, everything. “
Is there solidarity among the various churches in the country?
“Luckily yes, a lot. This is an area of Chaldean presence and all dioceses have mobilized to provide shelter and assistance to refugees, Christian or not. It’s an admirable collective effort that continues nonstop since when the emergency began”.
In view of what the ISIS militia is doing, you have not hesitated to speak of “crimes against humanity” and “ethnic-religious cleansing” …
“Indeed. It is incredible that in 2014 certain things can still happen while the world confines itself to the role of passive observer. Do you know what is the worst? Visiting the families of the refugees and being asked especially by the elderly and children: But what is happening? Why are they doing this to us? What evil have we done? The youth because they fail to find a perspective for their future. The elders because since 2003 face a life of danger and persecution from which they cannot escape. Hope holds firm because they are not alone, because there are people who care for them, that make them feel that there is still someone who loves them”.
You know the letter of Pope Francis to Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations. Do you think that UN intervention would be helpful in this situation?
“Certainly yes. Moreover it is important that this intervention happens soon. The Pope’s letter gives us energy and hope, obviously, but we would like that all Christians of the world show solidarity with their Iraqi brothers without seeming ” timid” when facing this tragedy. This is what the Patriarch has also asked.”
What about what happens in Baghdad? The former premier Al Maliki appears to have stepped aside in favour of the new premier Haider Al Abadi.
“The situation in Baghdad is complicated but not irreparable. The important thing, if we seriously want to save the country and have a future, is that everyone works with the new premier, putting their own interest aside.”
In Kurdistan, where the peshmerga have so far resisted the advance of ISIS, is there concern?
“There has been until a few days ago. The question that everyone was asking, sometimes in the secret of their hearts was: Will we be able to resist? Confidence has started to grow when the first Americans bombers arrived”.
What news do you have of Mosul, your archdiocese? ¿No Christian has remained? What happens in the city?
“Mosul has been”cleansed”of Christians, everyone has fled the city. Reports coming say the city is about to collapse, almost all activities are blocked. The properties of Christians have been taken, places of worship and buildings of the Catholic Church were destroyed or put to another use. … As my archdiocese…”
What have they done with it?
“It has become the headquarters of the ISIS militia”.