After the traumas inflicted by the rise of ISIS, the return of Iraq’s Christian communities to villages and towns on the Nineveh plains around Mosul has a special resonance throughout the Catholic Church.
For one priest and active supporter of his fellow Catholics in Iraq, the resettlement should represent something joyful but instead the threat these Iraqis faced has not disappeared but only changed form.
Father Benedict Kiely left his comfortable posting in the American state of Vermont to work with Iraqi Christians, a community that was 200,000 strong in Mosul and surrounding towns and had been put to flight by the terror group.
ISIS has since been vanquished but Fr Kiely on a recent visit experienced the culture of fear that still exists at first hand. One of his friends, Fr Behnam Benoka, a Syrian Catholic priest, recalled to him how a member of an Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) militia put a gun to his head after surrounding his church in the town of Bartella.
“They feel surrounded in Bartella, the priest has had a gun in his face, there is a large banner of the ayatollahs in the middle of the town and even the Iraqi general in the area seems afraid of these militias,” Fr Kiely told The National from his home in England after returning from Iraq. “Unless the Shia militias are removed, it’s basically over for Christians in the area.
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