In order to support the faithful and encourage them to stay in their country of origin, the Syriac Catholic Church has re-established a diocese for the Kurdistan region of Iraq as a way to stop the exodus of Christians who remain targets of the Islamic State.
The Syriac Catholic Patriarch, Ignace Joseph III Younan, celebrated the erection of the new diocese of Hadiab-Erbil during a Mass in the Church of Mary Queen of Peace in Erbil, Iraq on August 24, 2019.
In his homily, he commended the faithful for being “the embodiment of the living faith, and a testimony to the challenge and steadfastness amid takfiri terrorism and in the face of evil forces that wanted to kill hope in your believing souls.”
“I say and repeat: You have carried the cross on the example of the Saviour, our divine teacher, and you have persevered in your faith…which has been admired around the world, East and West alike,” Patriarch Younan said.
Archbishop Nathaniel Nizar Semaan heads the new diocese. He was ordained a bishop on June 7 as the coadjutor archbishop of Mosul where he served for only a few weeks, then he was named archbishop of the new diocese when it was erected June 28.
The diocese of Hadiab erected for the first time in the thirteenth century, disappeared in the mid-seventeenth century, before being reborn from the ashes in the summer of 2019.
The task will be difficult for Archbishop Semaan: while, in 2003, there were still about 1.5 million Christians in Iraq, their presence, which goes back to apostolic times, in 2019 is estimated to be about 250,000 faithful.
They live not only under the threat of endemic Sunni terrorism—the last IS attack in Erbil was on July 23, 2019—but are still caught in the grip of the violent struggle between Shiites and Kurds for control of the region