Friday, February 19, 2010

I had so hoped to leave you with another wonderful story and very special photos for this coming weekend but my visit to the city and diocese of Alqosh in northwestern Kurdistan will have to wait until Monday. After a long day of driving, visits and interviews, including one with Bishop Michael Mukdasi, we left Alqosh for Duhok, arriving a little after 8 p.m. We will be spending a night or two in Duhok with three Chaldean Sisters of Mary Immaculate as Hank, Diane and I will be visiting this city, where the sisters run a nursery school, and region tomorrow.

The sisters offered us a bountiful and wonderful dinner tonight and the conversation (a little English, some Italian and some Arabic!) and laughter was as stimulating as the food. It is now 10:30. I have my final live radio show of the day at 11 and shortly after that I hope to retire and perhaps sleep for a full 7 hours.

The lights are on but went off briefly earlier. We learned over dinner that the electricity normally comes on in this house for about two hours daily, sometimes three, but because there are elections, everyone gets several additional hours a day of electricity! I suggested they have a referendum in these Iraqi elections that asks citizens to answer yes or no to the question Do you want to have more electricity every day?

I have so many amazing stories. I will write them all it will just take a while. I have learned many new things but I know one thing for certain: I will return to Rome a changed person. That too I will tell you in future columns.

Thanks for staying with me!

God sit on your shoulder!


I spent today in the area of Iraq known as the Nineveh Plains. This is an area to which several blogs could be dedicated given its historical and political importance in a nation that is rich in both history and politics. But that is not the purpose of this column today. I traveled to the towns of Karmles and Qaraqosh in this region to meet the new ordinary of Mosul.

The Nineveh Plains, also called the Mosul Plains, lie east northeast of Mosul, another heavily disputed area of Iraq, one currently populated by Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, and Yazidis. The actual ancient city of Nineveh which I did not see is in the eastern part of Mosul. Mosul, as most of you know from daily news reports, is, unfortunately, most well-known at the moment for its unrest, violence and the almost daly killing or abduction of Christians. Just Wednesday another young Christian sudent was killed here.

And yet hope has arrived in Mosul. And his name is Archbishop Amil Nona.

At 42 he is the yougest archbishop in the Catholic Church and he succeeds the martyred Archbishop Paulos Rahho who was killed in 2008. The youthful archibishops election by the synod of the Chaldean Church was confirmed by Pope Benedict last November 13. He took possession of his see just a little over a month ago on January 8.

Here is Archbishop Nona at a nursery school in Karmles with one of the Chaldrean Sisters of Mary Immaculate.

And here are some of the 140 children Christian and Muslim at this school.

A tall, smiling man, Archbishop Nona received us outside the city of Mosul but within his diocese. Fathers Bashar Warda, rector of the Chaldean seminary here in Ankawa (and a classmate of the new archbishops in their seminary days), and Rayan Paulos Atto, pastor of Mar Kardas parish in Erbil accompanied Diane and Hank McCormick and myself on todays trip to Karmles and Qaraqosh.

It was a never-to-be-forgotten day. It was a profound joy for me personally and an honor and joy professionally to be able to spend the morning with the new archbishop of such a beleagured diocese. Fr. Bashar told me at lunch that I was the first journalist to interview Archbishop Nona in person.

I am once again writing this blog at a late hour and the lights have gone out twice though only briefly since I started this column. Electricity is rationed in Iraq for anywhere from two to 12 hours a day. If you dont have a generator you have to learn how to ration those hours. The seminary does have a generator, for which I have been thankful countless times every day! Given these conditions I wll briefly describe our meeting today and tell most of the story with some delightful photos.

I firmly believe that Archbishop Nonas greatest gift to his people is his youth, He is young in age but also in visions and dreams. He is a realist and knows the security issues in Mosul, knows that hundreds of his families have emigrated to safer havens such as Kurdistan but he wants to give them hope and bring them back or, at least, keep families here.

Several of the faithful recognize and greet the new archbishop as we leave the nursery school.

He does not want the status quo. He wants the people to dream along with him, to have projects, to see tomorrow, to see beyond tomorrow, to dream of a future that is safe for each inhabitant.

We visit the shrine of St. Barbara in Karmles, built in the seventh century.

Archbishop Nona told me of a wonderful project he I would like to see come to fruition, a project that he has been planning for two years, in fact, thus before he was a bishop. So he does have visions and dreams.

We visited the tomb of Fr Ragheed Ganny, a priest martyred in Mosul in 2007.

Mosuls new ordinary envisions a large school in his diocese (which has numerous Catholic families, of both Chaldean and Syrian rites), a school that runs from kindergarten through high school, a school that will create jobs to build and jobs for teachers and others once it is a functioning school. The plans are drawn up. The workers are ready. All he needs now is money. He told me a million dollars will build his ream school, the kind of school that the Church and the community need, a quality sscool that will bring honor to both Church and community.

I have only scratched the surface of our conversation and have given you a small glimpse into the dreams and hopes of Archbishop Nona.

His message to his community is the same as his episcopal motto HOPE!

And here is a younger Iraqi citizen also filled with hope

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