Pope Francis is awaited impatiently in Iraq. Iraqi Christians, who have been through harsh persecution here, are looking to him for support and spiritual guidance. But it is worth remembering that many of these Christians have already been helped by Pope Francis, long before the present upcoming papal visit – albeit help of a somewhat unusual kind.
In November 2017 Pope Francis was given a gift by the famous Italian Lamborghini car manufacturer of a personalised version of its top-end Huracán sports car. After writing his autograph on the bonnet, the Holy Father decided to auction the car to the highest bidder and donate the proceeds to charity. The international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) was one of the charities designated by the Pope and received the sum of $313,000 AUD, which was immediately allocated for the support of the Christian communities of the Niniveh plains in Iraq, who were contemplating the possibility of returning to their towns and villages of origin after being forced to flee by the brutal invasion of the rebels of the so-called Islamic State.
The Holy Father’s donation made possible the completion of two important projects.
Destroyed multipurpose hall of St Mary in Bashiqa. Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need.
The first of these was the reconstruction of the multipurpose centre dedicated to the Virgin Mary in Bashiqa, which belonged to the Syriac Catholic community and which had been totally destroyed by the jihadists of IS. Of the 313,000 AUD donated by the Pope, ACN allocated 260,000 AUD to this project, topped up by a further 194,000 AUD donated by other private benefactors of the charity all around the world, thereby making up the necessary total of 454,000 AUD.
The second project was the rebuilding of the Syriac Catholic nursery school and daycare centre, also in Bashiqa and also dedicated to the Virgin Mary, which had been partially destroyed by the Islamic extremists.
Reconstruction of destroyed Kindergarten in Bashiqa. Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need.
The remaining 53,000 AUD of the money donated by the Pope was destined by ACN for this initiative. The building, which will welcome around 70 children, is now complete, although the activities have not yet begun there on account of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We are delighted to have finished work on Our Lady’s kindergarten, which will help and encourage our children to return to Bashiqa and resume their education,” commented Syriac Catholic Bishop Yohanna Boutros Mouche of Mosul, and Father Rezqallah Alsimanni, the parish priest of Our Lady’s church.
According to the most recent figures available to ACN, updated on 12 January 2021, over 45% of the families who originally lived in the Niniveh plains and were expelled by the Islamist violence have now returned to their towns and villages, thanks in great measure to the wonderful effort of solidarity by the international Catholic community. Almost 57% of the homes that were destroyed have now been rebuilt, thanks to the contributions of various charitable organisations.
In allocating the money donated by the Holy Father to these two projects, ACN International wanted to demonstrate its support for the Christians persecuted by ISIS. And the charity is delighted that today both projects have been completed, so close to the time of the historic apostolic visit by Pope Francis to Iraq.
Featured Image: Pope auctions Lamborghini to support Christians in Iraq. Photographer: ACN Italy. Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need.