The best response Christians can give to the threat of Islamic State is to live genuinely Christian lives, and to not be afraid, the last head of the archdiocese of Mosul in Iraq told the Catholic Weekly.
When Islamic State forces seized control of Mosul in 2014, Archbishop Amel Shamon Nona was forced into exile. He has been living in Sydney since 2015, when Pope Francis appointed him Bishop of the Chaldean Catholic Diocese of St Thomas the Apostle of Australia and New Zealand.
For someone who has witnessed so much tragedy and persecution in war-torn Mosul, Archbishop Nona has a remarkable calmness and serenity about him. His demeanour speaks of a quiet strength born of a deep and abiding faith.
His election as Archbishop of Mosul in 2010 by the Synod of the Chaldean Church sent chills up the spines of family and friends. The previous Archbishop of Mosul, Paulos Faraj Rahho, had been kidnapped and murdered in 2008.
“It was very weird because my family and my friends, when I was elected archbishop, they didn’t say ‘congratulations’,” Archbishop Nona says with a chuckle. Instead they asked him how he could possibly think of going there.
Even today, Archbishop Nona proudly wears the pectoral cross of his predecessor, Archbishop Rahho, around his neck.
As Archbishop of Mosul, he found much satisfaction in ministering to the small Christian community there: “Until 2014, I think it was the best time in my life. There was a small group of Christians and they were very afraid. They didn’t do anything except go from work to their house. Nothing else. We started doing some activities in the church and I started to visit them. I felt very happy and it was a nice time in my life.”
When he was in Mosul, Archbishop Nona advised the Christians there to not be afraid: “If we as Christians live our faith exactly, they can’t do anything. I lived with them (Islamic State) for four years and really I was not afraid of anything. I said to the Christian people in the city of Mosul, ‘If they kill us tomorrow, or even in one hour, we have to live this moment full of joy and full of the love of Jesus Christ’.”