Christians in Iraq were lucky to escape with their lives after bomb attacks on a Catholic church and a convent of Sisters.
St. Ephrem’s Chaldean Church, in the northern city of Mosul, was reduced to a blackened shell when attackers walked in and detonated high explosives. The building, and the nearby presbytery which was also attacked, were both empty at the time of the attacks and no one was hurt.
Shortly after the explosions on Thursday morning, November 26th, a second bomb attack took place at St. Theresa’s Convent, a few minutes’ drive away, also in the Al Jadeda district of New Mosul, in the west of the city.
At least five Sisters were in the building when the attack took place but they were able to escape unharmed. They were not in the part of the convent damaged by the bomb which was thrown at the complex.
Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Catholic charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, one of the Sisters described the attack. The Sister, who asked not to be named, said, “We are in total shock. The sheer noise of the bomb and the damage it caused terrified us.”
In a message to ACN, Archbishop-elect Amel Nona of Mosul wrote: “What has happened is a terrible thing. We do not know why or how this happened….We thank God that the parish priest [of St. Ephrem's] was not in the building, otherwise he could have died.”
Senior Iraqi priest Father Bashar Warda, who has helped coordinate support after the attacks, said, “We are at a loss to explain why this should have happened.” He said the attack may have had political motives in the run-up to elections next year.
Fr. Warda went on to say that it had come as a great shock as St. Ephrem’s parish priest, Fr. Youhanna Jajeka, who had an excellent reputation in the neighborhood.
He added, “Fr. Youhanna is a quiet and honorable man. He is well known for his good relationship with all people in the area and for his service to those in need.”
The convent, which received less damage than St. Ephrem’s Church, was Mother House for the Dominicans in the region. Many of the Sisters there had moved to safety to another Dominican convent in the nearby village of Qaraqosh.
The attacks come after a period of new hope for Christians in Mosul, where the situation had improved since last autumn’s attacks which forced thousands of them to leave. Many soon returned, although life remained tense.
Father Bashar said: “The Christian people in Mosul were really surprised by these attacks that have just taken place. Things were gradually becoming normalized and many felt that security had improved. What has happened now has put a stop to the optimism.”
Support for the Christians in the Middle East is a priority for Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). In a message to the charity, Pope Benedict XVI lamented how the Church in the Middle East was “threatened in its very existence.”