“Go back to the bus immediately or we will kill you and your daughter.” It was August 22, 2014, when little Cristina, a Syro-Catholic girl who was just three years old, was wrested from her mother by men of the Islamic State. Her family was unable to flee before ISIS’ invasion on the night of August 6-7, and she was among the few remaining in Qaraqosh. But then the extremists forced them also to leave.
“Cristina’s mother was forced to get on the bus that would take her to Erbil – explained to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Father Ignatius Offy, Syro-Catholic priest close to the family — and from then, she never saw her child again until five days ago, when she was finally able to embrace her again.” Since the seizure of the Nineveh Plain by the Caliphate, Father Offy has tried to trace his faithful who were kidnapped by Jihadists, “and Cristina in particular, because she was the smallest of all.” During these years, Khouder Ezzo and his wife Aida Hanna received news of their little daughter. At first she was seen with an ISIS soldier near a mosque and then with a Muslim family that lived in Mosul, in the Tanak district.
“That family picked up Cristina in a mosque of Mosul,” explained Father Offy. “They hoped to return her to her parents, but they feared for her security. So they kept her with them, loved and looked after like a daughter.” When the Muslim family moved from Mosul to a safer area, they finally contacted Cristina’s older brother and on June 10 the little girl was returned to her mother’s arms.
“A real miracle for which her parents prayed so much – affirmed the priest – the father prayed the Rosary every day so that his daughter would return.” As is understandable, the child is still profoundly traumatized. “During these three years she forgot her family and also her mother tongue, Syrian. Now she only knows Arabic and in any case she speaks very little. She is in need of psychological support.
Today, Cristina’s family lives in a caravan at Erbil. Qaraqosh was liberated but their home was completely destroyed by ISIS. Like theirs, there are some 13,000 Christian dwellings of the Nineveh Plain that need to be restored or entirely rebuilt.
To this end, Aid to the Church in Need launched a reconstruction plan estimated at about 230 million euros. “A true and proper Marshall Plan – explained Alessandro Monteduro, Director of ACN-Italy – which will return the Nineveh Plain to Christianity.”
The plan of intervention was presented in the past days by ACN to the European Ambassadors accredited to the Holy See. “It is our intention to involve governments also in our plan, so that they contribute to restore to Christian families the life that was wrested from them by ISIS. Now that the Jihadists are increasingly striking “our” West, to support persecuted Christians represents the first and most effective vaccine against extremism.”