Iraqi Priest Saves Christian Heritage, Becomes Archbishop

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Published January 25, 2019

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An Iraqi priest who saved a trove of religious manuscripts from the Islamic State group was ordained on Friday as the new Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul .

Najeeb Michaeel, 63 , was inaugurated in a ceremony in Mosul ’s St . Paul Church attended by Catholic leaders from the region and the US , as well as local officials and residents.

“ Our message to the whole world, and to Mosul ’ s people , is one of coexistence , love , and peace among all of Mosul ’ s different communities and the end of the ideology that Daesh ( IS) brought here, ” Michaeel told AFP .

Michaeel entered religious life at 24 and spent years serving at Al – Saa Church ( Our Lady of the Hour ) in Mosul .

There , he managed the preservation of nearly 850 ancient manuscripts in Aramaic , Arabic and other languages , as well as 300 -year – old letters and some 50 ,000 books.

In 2007 , he transferred the archives to Qaraqosh , once Iraq ’ s largest Christian city , to protect them during an Islamist insurgency which saw thousands of Christians flee Mosul .

And when IS — who was notorious for defacing churches and destroying any artefacts deemed contrary to its neoconservative interpretation of Islam — swept across Iraq in 2014 , Michaeel again took action .

As the jihadists charged towards Qaraqosh , the Dominican friar filled his car with rare manuscripts , 16 th century books and irreplaceable records and fled east to the relative safety of Iraq ’ s autonomous Kurdish region.

With two other friars from his Dominican order , Michaeel also moved the Oriental Manuscript Digitisation Centre , which scans damaged manuscripts recovered from churches and villages across northern Iraq .

From the Kurdish capital Arbil , he and a team of Christian and Muslim experts digitally copied thousands of Chaldean , Syrian , Armenian and Nestorian manuscripts .

Iraqi forces recaptured Mosul from IS in the summer of 2017 , and Michaeel returned to the city months later to attend the first post -IS Christmas mass .

He found his church in ruins , with rooms transformed into workshops for bombs and explosive belts and gallows had replaced the church altar .

But he insisted there was reason for hope .

“ I ’ m optimistic . The last word will be one of peace , not the sword , ” Michaeel told AFP last year .

On Friday , the head of the Chaldean Catholic Church called for more international support to Iraq ’s Christians .

“ Bishops from outside Iraq are participating in this occasion to support the Christians of Mosul , ” said Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako .

“ They are encouraging them to return to their city , rebuild it alongside the other communities and turn a new page based on trust and peaceful coexistence .”

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