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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Terrorism and faith during persecution in Iraq

By Archbishop Amel Shamon Nona published in The Knights of Columbus Magazine "Columbia".
Archbishop Amel Shamon Nona offers a hopeful message based on his personal experiences and cautions Iraqi Christians not to give into the fear of ISIS. Unfortunately, there are a dwindling number of Christians remaining in Iraq and Mass is no longer celebrated in Mosul, he says.

Reports say the estimated 3,000 or so Christians who are still there - from about 35,000 in 2003 - all fled ahead of the militias' takeover of control, although some families were reported to have returned. 

Archbishop was born November 1, 1967, and he has been the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul in the northern part of Iraq since the consent of Pope Benedict XVI, to his election on 13 November 2009. He took over the position after the murder of Paulos Faraj Rahho in early 2008.

Pope Francis nominated Archbishop Amel Shamon Nona, 46, as the new bishop of the Chaldean eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle in Sydney, Australia. Nona is now the former Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, Iraq.

We know the horror Christians have faced in Mosul, as ISIS forced Catholics and other Christians to flee, including this archbishop. 

In fact, Nona famously said that, with his absence, it marked the first time in history when no Mass was offered in his diocese in about 1700 years: he lost his diocese.

The diocese, until 2003, was home to 35,000 souls; Mosul is 95 miles north of Baghdad. Archbishop Nona has been living in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan at the Chaldean seminary.

Back in August, Jesuit Father James Schall wrote, quoting the archbishop:

“Try to understand us,” Archbishop Nona pleads. “Your liberal and democratic principles are worth nothing here.” Indeed, we can even argue that these principles paralyze us and make us blind to the reality of persecution by and in Islamic spheres. 

The Christians of Mosul were given the standard Muslim choice—conversion or death. Some managed to flee. The Islamic State means business.

Columbia- EDITOR’S NOTE: 
Chaldean Archbishop Amel Shamon Nona served as archbishop of Mosul, Iraq, from 2010 to 2014. When Islamic State militants (also known as ISIS or Daesh) overran Mosul in June 2014, Christians were forced to flee to the Kurdistan region in the north of the country. In January 2015, Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Nona to head the Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of Sydney – the Chaldean Catholic diocese for Australia and New Zealand. This text was adapted from an address he delivered Jan. 17 at the New York Encounter – an annual gathering in New York City organized by the Catholic lay movement Communion and Liberation – and is reprinted with permission.

Archbishop: On Jan. 16, 2010, I arrived in Mosul, the most dangerous city in Iraq at the time. I arrived as a new archbishop for an ancient diocese, which traces its origins to the end of the first century.

Once the second largest archdiocese in Iraq after Baghdad, Mosul had remained without a bishop for about two years after my predecessor, Archbishop Paul Faraj Rahho, was kidnapped and killed in 2008. Because of the persecution of Christians, the majority of the faithful had already fled the city by the time of my arrival.

One might ask: How could one go and live in a place like Mosul in 2010? I think that the more correct question is: How does one confront persecution from a standpoint of faith?


Several weeks after my arrival in Mosul, I said to the faithful gathered for Mass: “Our lives are worth living fully with joy and strength at every moment. Even if others want to kill us, even if I have to die an hour from now, it is required of us to live life well, rejoicing and filled with courage in the present moment. The strongest weapon against terrorism is a joyful, fully Christian life.”
In preparation for my first Easter as archbishop, I announced that we would work to have a Mass in the evening, and a late one at that. Since 2003, there were no more late and evening Masses because of fear and also because an 11 o’clock curfew was imposed at night.

“Make one Mass and live it with joy and as a truly spiritual moment,” I told the faithful. “We will face fear with our faith, with unity and participation in our destiny. After that, if they wish to kill us, so be it.”

When the time came, we celebrated Easter Mass at a very late hour. The church was filled to standing room only, and it was wonderful. We challenged fear with the joy of our faith, and with courage, unity and reason – sticking with our culture and Christian tradition amid the high waves that countered them.

In 2011, we planned for Easter to be celebrated during the afternoon so that people did not stay late into the evening.

In the morning, I woke and was told that the army had imposed a “curfew” in all of Mosul. No one could go out in a car, and in some places people were not even allowed to walk. I was waiting with concern and hoping that this curfew would be lifted before Mass, but it was not. I asked the local police to take me to the church, and considered if Mass could take place with just one or two people.

When I arrived, about a third of the church was filled with people, and soon more people came and filled it. I was amazed, because I knew they were from distant neighborhoods, and I asked them how they came to the church.

“We walked,” they said. Some families had walked more than an hour – father and mother, sons and daughters, including young women.

When the army saw Christians along the streets, they asked, “Why are you walking during the curfew?”

The Christians replied, “Because today is our feast.”

In some cases, the soldiers invited them into their cars and brought them to the church.

Do you know what it means for a Christian family, especially women and girls, to walk on the street when there is curfew in Mosul? It means they are easy targets for anyone who wants to kill or abduct them.

When I saw the actions that these people took, we began Mass, and it was very beautiful.

If someone asks me how can one could go to Mosul and live with fear, I always answer them with this parable, this real example. I say, “How can we not have courage when we see faith like this? With faith and courage like this, we can defeat any evil, without fear.”


Islamic terrorists are well aware that implanting fear in others helps them do what they want in the world. So our weapon as Christians is to live without fear – showing them that we love life and will never give up.

When they see our brave choice they lose the foundation of their fear-based ideology. In other words, we fight them by living out our Christian life, which counters their basic thinking and principles.

From my experience in Mosul, I can say that we can defeat the evil incarnate in those terrorists. And we do it by a solid, strong Christian life and the fullness of joy, showing all this openly to others. Terrorists are afraid of a very happy Christian life. So let us become joyful Christians who are delighted in our faith in order to defeat them.

There are many people who come back to Christianity because of fear. The return to faith is good, but the cause of this needs to change from fear to courage, from fear to strong Christian conviction. We have to be convinced and believe that Christianity is the true 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 with courage in the declaration of our faith. And such a declaration does not just mean the Christian example, but also the courage to talk about this example and to reveal this everywhere and to everyone.

We fight fear when we believe that we are going to die someday. When? I do not know, but until I die, the question is: How do I live my life? With strength and joy – because I am a Christian. If not in this place, then in another. If not in Mosul, then maybe in New York. Daesh can do nothing, terrorists can do nothing, when Christians live as true believers.

During the recent wave of immigration to Europe, I saw a report on television about a Greek lady who rescued a family from drowning in the sea. She said that people’s lives have changed: They have lost joy and safety; they have lost interest in life due to the large number of tragedies. They no longer feel reassured and loved.

I reflected on what she said and I did not feel the same, even though I lived for four years surrounded by terrorism, in very critical conditions. When I drove to homes and churches, I had to frequently change routes and dress in lay clothes for safety. Still, I did not feel what the woman described, but her words made me wonder: Why had her situation and that of others reached this point?

I think the reason is not the tragedies in front of us, but rather the empty space in our lives. What is the basis upon which we live our lives?


In the Western world, we have established life based on one thing: freedom. We fought for freedom, and it is really worth fighting for. But we have set all of our life on this one and only basis. Only freedom.

As a result, with the first signs of a problem or a challenge to our freedom, everything breaks down. We lose joy and safety, we no longer feel reassured and loved.

Freedom is necessary, but it cannot be separated from truth and love. We cannot live as free people without Christian principles, values and ethics informing all aspects of our lives, such as the economy, politics and relationships. When we deprive freedom of all this, it becomes only an idol and comes to mean merely that we do whatever we want.

When confronted with terrorism, the majority of people are afraid not only of losing their lives, but also of losing the kind of freedom on which we founded our current system of life. At the same time, there is a growing fear of Christianity in Western society because people think that anything with fixed principles is a threat to their way of life.

But faithful Christians are called to face challenges with strength, firmness and lack of fear. We should not be afraid to call ourselves Christians and to embrace a different way of life. As Christians love their haters and persecutors, they show their strength and teach others how to respect life, even when they sometimes have to resort to the use of pressure and force. To love the other does not mean giving in to what the other wants, but nurturing and educating the other with the love that we received from Christ.

In a culture that evades responsibility, Christians need to be responsible even for the wrongdoer, the villain who wants to kill us; we should not allow him to continue his wickedness.

Jesus said, “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Mt 5:39). This means to stop the evildoer by showing him a face that he does not know. It does not mean that we always are to be pessimistic and submissive and to allow others to hurt us. But to stop them and stop their evil, we can show that we do not hurt them even though we could, because we love their humanity in spite of their wickedness.

We need a responsible Christianity, a faith that takes responsibility for the evil and the good, for the whole world. Pope Francis says that there is “globalization of indifference.” We must be witnesses to our mission, not indifferent or apathetic to what is happening around us.

This includes the question: How can we in the West help those persecuted Christians?

You can help the persecuted Christians when you return to your community with courage and say that we are Christians and we want a society that is Christian; when you declare by your words and actions that you are Christians at every moment and in all areas of life: in the home, in relationships, at work, with friends and with strangers, with your social, political and economic stances. When you do all that, you are helping persecuted Christians.

Shemon Bar Sabbae, a patriarch of our Church, was martyred in the fourth century under Persian rule for refusing to deny his faith. When they were taking him and hundreds of Christians to execution, stripped of their clothes, he sang a hymn that we still sing in the Chaldean liturgy. I conclude with two lines from this hymn: “Even if they stripped off your outer clothes, do not take off your inner clothes, dear baptized faithful. If you are dressed with this invisible weapon, even the waves of many temptations will not defeat you.”

Just as the martyrs at the beginning of Christianity were filled with joy when they gave their lives, so it is today in many places of the world. Our behavior shows our faith. Our words translate our Christianity.

ARCHBISHOP AMEL SHAMON NONA, a native of Iraq and former archbishop of Mosul, currently serves as head of the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of Sydney, Australia.

Maine Writer note- Archbishop Nona raised controversy about his criticism of the massive Muslim migrations into Western nations. This article published in "Columbia" doesn't mention his warnings, but my blog is posted to draw attention to the risk Christians are taking in the face of extraordinary danger as well as to bring awareness to the dire circumstances faced by those who oppose ISIS terrorism

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