Christians in Mosul and the Nineveh Plain are preparing to live "a Lent of solidarity", the "key word" that "inspires" deeds and actions, this according to Fr Paul Thabit Mekko, head of the Christian community in Karamles (Karemlash), Nineveh plain (northern Iraq),
The Chaldean priest has helped thousands of refugees who fled their homes in the summer of 2014 as a result of the rise of the Islamic State (IS) group, and has played a leading role in the reconstruction work.
Speaking to AsiaNews, he explained that "people are filling the churches" during "celebrations and meetings to strengthen ties and overcome divisions." At present, "the priority is to bring the community together, overcome divisions and boost solidarity, especially for those families who have nothing or are down on their luck. There is also concern for families not from the area, living in other parts of the country."
"Every day we celebrate Mass and prayers, conduct the Way of the Cross as well as readings and reflections," said the clergyman. "Proposals for action for the whole community and fund raising are carried out. We ask for small amounts, which can be of great help when put together."
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"We have managed to put aside some funds to help people in difficulty, from those who need food or financial help to pay off debts to those who seek compensation for things like road accidents or sick people who need treatment. The goal is to do more for the sake of solidarity."
Meanwhile, reconstruction is underway. "Many homes still show the effects of being set on fire. Some homes are still in partial ruin; others have been torn down. Work goes on.
"In Karamles, we are just about to complete a community centre and have it inaugurated for Easter. It will host pastoral and recreational activities, catechism; it will have a large hall for celebrations, weddings. At present, people still have to go to Qaraqosh where facilities are larger. With the new hall, it will no longer be necessary to go elsewhere."
Mosul, northern Iraq's largest city and once an IS stronghold, is also undergoing a rebirth. "In a Mosul parish, we celebrate Mass every Sunday bringing in several families, some of whom have returned permanently.
"Service is back to normal even though most of the city's Christian community has not yet returned. We are waiting for a major shift in the process of the city's revival as a lot must be done amid widespread corruption."
Many young people are working for "radical change". In a place that once was a jihadi stronghold, people are waiting to see "new signs about work and a new model of living together. Many young people want to build a new society, opposed to extremism, rich in colour, open, with different ethnic and religious groups."
Mosul "could become a experiment of Christians and Muslims living together, thanks also to the work of organisations and people who want to change the way people think, uniting Arabs, Yazidis, Muslims, Christians, etc. in diversity."
Finally, Fr Thabet expressed hope "that this Lent will be the dawn of a new ear for Iraq, one of political change, of real fight against the corruption that is destroying the country.
"We need a global pact among citizens to impose a new vision, real peace and actual change for the full development of the country; something that we have been waiting for since 2003."