Christians in Iraq have lost everything because of their faith, the Archbishop of Mosul said yesterday, but "God cannot forget us".
Speaking at the General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference in Maynooth, Syrian-Catholic Archbishop Monsignor Yohanna Petros Mouche, said that a year after Mosul fell to Islamic State, Christians in the region are still facing crisis.
"We have sacrificed everything for our faith. Our people have lost everything, simply because they are Christians. This is a time of terrible insecurity, with little hope of a peaceful resolution to the crisis in the near future," he said.
"The Christian community in Iraq is aware that fellow Christians in Ireland and throughout the world are praying for them in their time of need. With so many people praying for us, it reminds us that God cannot forget us."
There are currently believed to be around 2.8 million internally displaced Iraqis, and millions more have fled to neighbouring Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The Archbishop said the material needs of these refugees remain "acute and wide-ranging".
"In addition to the basic necessities of food and clothing, housing is urgently needed to ensure that families can stay together. Doctors and nurses, as well as medicines and other equipment, are needed to protect the health of those living in these very difficult conditions."
He also stressed the importance of education, which he said was "crucial" to the future of Iraq's young people. "The Iraqi Christian community would welcome any assistance from the Government of Ireland, and her people, to support the resettlement of refugees to allow families to stay together and provide young people with access to education," he added.
Mosul was once considered the heartland of Iraq's Christian population. ISIS militants captured the city on June 10 last year and issued an ultimatum to Christians, telling them to convert to Islam, pay a tax or flee. Those who refused to comply were murdered, and there are now believed to be none left in the city.
In an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Archbishop Mouche called for greater protections for Iraqi Christians, insisting on the importance of them being able to stay in their home country. "I am calling on the international community: if they cannot protect us, then they must open their doors and help us start a new life elsewhere," he said.
"But we would prefer to be in Iraq and be protected in Iraq."
This week, it emerged that jihadists are to convert one of the largest churches in Mosul into a "mosque of the mujahideen". Notices posted around the city made the announcement, and local reports say that the church has been draped with Islamic State flags.
Archbishop Mouche told ACN that he is still reeling from the shock of Mosul's fall. "I am like someone who is dreaming or drunk. I can't understand what is going on around me. It is a nightmare.
"All our heritage is in Mosul...But we have no news about our churches and monasteries because we have no-one left in Mosul to report on it."