Those who believe, live differently. ‘Faith pertains essentially to the future; it is promise of future glory’, Joseph Ratzinger wrote back in 1970. Faith means life lived in a spirit of trust. It betokens the certainty that God is the one who guarantees our human future.’

The Christians of Iraq’s Nineveh Plains are filled with this spirit of trust. Rooted in faith, they look to the future. This is the symbolic meaning of the olive tree. Each of the 554 families who have returned to Qaraqosh and Bartella has received a small olive tree. In solemn procession, they carried them back to their partially rebuilt villages.

Returning to their roots does not simply mean going back to a particular place. It also means going back to love, back to reconciliation. The olive tree also symbolises this. During a Mass for the returning Christians, a bishop blessed the trees, and the name of each family was read out.

Everyone understood that the rebuilding of their houses was just a beginning, only the first step. Their most challenging task will be to rebuild souls, removing the wreckage from hearts, clearing away hatred and fear and reconciling with their neighbours. To do this they will need faith in Jesus, the source of all love, as this allows them to look towards the future with hope.

These families have seen faith put into action; they have experienced love. When they were fleeing, intent on simply surviving, ACN helped them with food, blankets and medicines and thereby saved tens of thousands of these Christians.

The solidarity, the support, the mercy expressed in these deeds, gave them the courage to go on living. ‘It was as important as our daily bread’, says one father of a family, and a Dominican Sister from the convent of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Teleskov adds, ‘Now it is a matter of “as we forgive those who trespass against us”’. 

These Sisters now need to rebuild their ruined convent. We have promised to help them. ‘The families need us’, says Sister Luma, quite forgetting everything the Sisters themselves have endured over the past few years – the expulsion, and flight, the destruction of their convent, and the death of 14 out of the 70 Sisters of her congregation.

The Sisters are confident, for the Christian Churches of the Nineveh Plains have joined forces with ACN to coordinate rebuilding work in the region. They need to rebuild thousands of family homes, hundreds of churches, parish centres, schools and doctors’ surgeries.

For ACN this is our biggest aid and reconstruction programme in recent decades. The Islamists drove people from their homes, burned down their houses, hacked down the trees – but their roots remain in the ground, just like the roots of the people’s faith and trust in God. And it is to these roots that the Christians of Nineveh are now returning.

This article can be found in Mirror 0817.