by Xavier Bisits & Iban de la Sota
As part of its reconstruction efforts in the Nineveh Plains, Iraq, the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has begun work to restore the homes of 41 Christian families in the town of Bartella. Approximately 220 additional people will benefit from this project, the latest in ACN’s program, which has already helped renovate more than 2000 houses in the region.
Prior to Daesh’s invasion in 2014, Bartella was a town of 3,500 Christian families (i.e., ca. 17,500 people, including around 12,300 Syriac Orthodox and 5,200 Syriac Catholics). When residents returned after the liberation of the town in 2016, their churches were desecrated, with the black flag of Daesh draped on church walls, and their homes had been burned, looted, and damaged in an attempt to prevent Christians from ever being able to return. Other homes were destroyed by airstrikes during the liberation.
A ceremony to mark the beginning of this work was held on 5 June 2019, beginning with Gospel readings and prayers chanted in Syriac, a neo-Aramaic dialect. Fr Benham Lallo, representing the parish priest Fr Benham Benoka, who could not make it to the event, led the proceedings and interpreted for Fr Andrzej Halemba, ACN’s Middle East section head. The latter, in a message to the families, compared their mission to that of families in the Old Testament, who had to rebuild Jerusalem after its destruction. He also asked them to pray for ACN’s benefactors. The olive trees were then blessed and distributed to each family, symbolizing the hope that peace will return to the region, after many years of war – that these trees, planted in the gardens of these families, will bear fruit.
Following the invasion of Mosul and the Niveveh Plains in the summer of 2014 the pontifical foundation ACN provided food, shelter, medicine and schooling for displaced Christians and others arriving in Erbil and elsewhere. After the communities began returning home following the expulsion of Daesh, the charity began rebuilding homes, convents, churches and other structures. ACN donors gave €42.622.212 in aid to Iraq from 2014 until May 2019.