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Faith and persecution in Mosul

An evening with Archbishop Amel S Nona DD

On Wednesday 23 May 2018, Warrane College welcomed Archbishop Amel S Nona DD, Eparch of St Thomas the Apostle of Sydney of the Chaldeans since 2015. He spoke to the boys about some of the persecution he and his church have experienced in Iraq, and it was clear that he is a man of great faith.

What is the Chaldean Catholic Church?
The Chaldean Catholic Church is an Eastern Catholic particular church that is in full communion with the Holy See and the rest of the Catholic Church, and, as the archbishop told the boys, traces back to St Thomas the Apostle. The Chaldean Patriarchate was originally formed out of the Church of the East in 1552 and is part of Syriac Christianity by heritage. It is headquartered in the Cathedral of Mary Mother of Sorrows in Baghdad, Iraq. While most of its congregation live in northern Iraq, there are also many Chaldeans in the Western world, such as the Chaldean Catholic Diocese of Australia and New Zealand which is based at Bossley Park, Sydney, NSW.

Archbishop Nona was ordained a priest of Alquoch (Chaldean), Iraq in January 1991, was ordained a bishop in January 2010, and was installed Archbishop of Mosul (Chaldean), Iraq in January 2010. He works generously for the Chaldean people here who been affected by the plight of Christians in Iraq; his motto being that ‘during a time of crisis and persecution, we must remain full of hope’.

Archbishop Nona’s experiences in Mosul
When he was installed Archbishop of Mosul, Nona’s predecessor had just been kidnapped and killed. It was evidently a role meant for a man of faith.

“How can one confront persecution starting from the basis of faith?” Archbishop Nona asked the boys. “If others want to kill us, and if I am to die an hour later, it is required of us to live life now, rejoicing and filled with courage in the moment. The strongest weapon against terrorism is a happy life and fully Christian.”

The archbishop recounted his experience of Holy Week in Mosul in 2011. Holy Thursday mass was planned for early in the day rather than the usual evening mass, so that people would get home safely afterwards. On the day however, a curfew was enforced by the army; which banned anyone from driving, and in some places, they weren’t even allowed to travel on foot. He asked the police to take him to the church to see what could be done, hoping that the mass could go ahead even if only with a handful of people. But on arrival, he found that the church was already about one-third full, and more people started arriving as time went on – whole families had come walking! Some had walked more than an hour to be there – a dangerous feat, especially for young women travelling alone. The archbishop was amazed with their genuine faith and courage.

“We challenged fear with the joy of faith,” he said. “Maybe someone will ask: how is it possible to live like this? The reason is simple – because we love our faith, and we want to be always faithful whatever the price we pay. The price we have paid is very great and deals with thousands of martyrs throughout history, and still to this very day, our blood is still being spilled. The Christian faith has become part of our identity, so we don’t distinguish between faith and our human identity… Faith for us is not a religion but a way of life, and a journey that shapes and forms our reality for the whole of our life. Being Christians is what is important to us in the first place, not just what we have or possess.”

Faith and persecution
On 10 June 2014, 120,000 Christians from the Mosul area left and went to Northern Iraq. Things were tough, and churches opened their doors to help. Things are still tough, with some of these people still trying to establish a life there. But Archbishop Nona spoke about the power of faith to overcome these challenges.

“Terrorists are well aware that the implanting of fear in others helps them to stay and do what they want in the war. So our weapon as Christians is to live without fear and showing them that we love life, and that we do everything to live well, and will never give up this form or way of life. I know one thing from my experience having lived in Mosul – the Christian faith is the solution. It is possible to fight fear in courage with the declaration of our faith…”

He continued: “Is there a future for Christians in these areas? The question is complex and difficult to answer. However, if it is easy, then the vast majority of people want to leave those areas and migrate out of Iraq because they have lost confidence in everything… With all this, we still believe there will remain some Christians in certain areas such as northern Iraq, which is somewhat safer than the rest of the country. What is important in all this is the Christian faith. Our faithful do not want to leave their faith and therefore they prefer to emigrate rather than stay and have their freedom of faith and expression of it constrained or limited. Our land, for us, is where it is possible for us to live our faith.”

Archbishop Nona left the boys with a quote from a fourth-century patriarch who was martyred by beheading. It was from a song he made up as they prepared him for death by taking his clothes; and it is still sung today: “even if you are stripped of your outer clothes, do not take off your inner clothes, dear baptised faithful…”

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