French president visits Catholic church in Iraq damaged by ISIS

Courtney Mares   By Courtney Mares for CNA

French President Emmanuel Macron tours Our Lady of the Hour Church in Mosul, Iraq, Aug. 29, 2021. / Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images.

Rome Newsroom, Aug 31, 2021 / 06:30 am (CNA).

French President Emmanuel Macron met this week with Iraqi Christians at a Catholic church in Mosul that was heavily damaged by the Islamic State.

The French president said on Aug. 29 that he was visiting Our Lady of the Hour Church in northern Iraq to reaffirm his “commitment to the centuries-old ties that unite us with the Christians of the Middle East.”

Our Lady of the Hour is a Catholic church and monastery of the Dominican religious order built between 1866 and 1873. It was damaged in April 2016 during the Islamic State occupation when an explosive device destroyed the church’s Marian grotto, which had been modeled after that of Lourdes.

At the church, Macron urged Iraq’s religious communities to work together to rebuild and pledged France’s help in the process.

“We will bring back a [French] consulate and schools,” Macron said at the church, according to AFP.

In 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) invaded Mosul and the Nineveh Plains in northern Iraq, displacing hundreds of thousands of people. After ISIS forces were driven back westward in 2016, Christian families began returning to their homes.

The French president also visited the 12th-century Al-Nouri Mosque in Mosul, which the Islamic State blew up during the last days of the battle on Mosul in 2017. The mosque is where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed the ISIS caliphate on June 29, 2014.

Both the Catholic church and the mosque are part of a UNESCO rebuilding project, called “Revive the Spirit of Mosul,” funded by the United Arab Emirates. The UAE has pledged $50.4 million to help rebuild historical landmarks in the city.

“Daesh [ISIS] has pushed thousands of threatened Iraqis to leave their country. We have invested heavily to allow these displaced populations to return. Concretely investing means supporting numerous infrastructure, education, and health projects. We will continue,” Macron wrote on Twitter on Aug. 28.

During his trip to Iraq, Macron met with several Christian leaders, including Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Najib Mikhael Moussa of Mosul, Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf of Mosul, and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Mar Timotheus Musa Shamani of the Mar Mattai Monastery in the Nineveh Plains.

Archbishop Moussa was nominated by the European Parliament for the 2020 Sakharov Prize. The citation said that when the Islamic State arrived in Mosul, he “ensured the evacuation of Christians, Syriacs and Chaldeans, to Iraqi Kurdistan and safeguarded more than 800 historic manuscripts dating from the 13th to the 19th century.” The manuscripts were digitized and exhibited in France and Italy.

Archbishop Olivier de Germay of Lyon, France, was also part of the delegation visiting Iraq. In a homily on Aug. 29 at the Church of Our Lady of the Hour, Archbishop de Germay encouraged Iraqis “to take up the challenge of forgiving those who persecute us.”

Macron’s two-day trip to Iraq followed a similar itinerary to Pope Francis’ apostolic visit to the country earlier this year, beginning in Baghdad and ending in Erbil. The French president also met in Baghdad with Iraqi Nobel Prize laureate Nadia Murad, two days after she had a meeting with the pope at the Vatican.

Pope Francis releases a dove after praying for the victims of war in Mosul, Iraq, March 7, 2021. Photo credits: Vatican Media.
Pope Francis releases a dove after praying for the victims of war in Mosul, Iraq, March 7, 2021. Photo credits: Vatican Media.

Pope Francis visited Iraq for three days last March to strengthen the hope of the country’s persecuted Christian minority and foster fraternity and interreligious dialogue.

In Mosul, the pope recited a prayer in Hosh al-Bieaa, a square in the city’s historic center surrounded by four churches — Syriac Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Chaldean Catholic — which were either damaged or destroyed after the Islamic State seized the city.

In his prayer, Pope Francis referred to Our Lady of the Hour Church, which is known in Mosul for its clock tower.

“Lord our God, in this city, we see two signs of the perennial human desire for closeness to you: the Al-Nouri Mosque, with its Al-Hadba minaret, and the Church of Our Lady of the Hour, whose clock for more than a century has reminded passersby that life is short and that time is precious,” the pope said.

“Teach us to realize that you have entrusted to us your plan of love, peace, and reconciliation, and charged us to carry it out in our time, in the brief span of our earthly lives. Make us recognize that only in this way, by putting it into practice immediately, can this city and this country be rebuilt, and hearts torn by grief be healed.”

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