A NEWLY ORDINATED priest has described returning with the Blessed Sacrament to his home village in northern Iraq after it was finally liberated from Daesh (ISIS) extremists. Father Martin Banni, who as a seminarian in August 2014 fled Karamlesh holding the Blessed Sacrament, reported to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) how he had just gone back to the village in the Nineveh Plains, carrying the Sacred Host.
Father Banni, who is in his mid-20s, described his joy at the home-coming to the village’s St Addai’s Church. In a message to the Catholic charity’s John Pontifex, who met the young man in October 2014 after he had been displaced to Kurdish northern Iraq, Father Banni stated: “When we last spoke, I told you about how I was the last to leave Karamlesh in the Nineveh Plains with the Blessed Sacrament in my hands. Daesh were about to occupy our village – we were forced to leave. Now I wish to tell you about my return to Karamlesh – I was the first priest to bless the people in the church in my home village in northern Iraq.”
(Father Martin Banni returning with the Blessed Sacrament to St Addai’s Church in Karamlesh, Iraq Spring 2017 © Aid to the Church in Need)
Speaking of the Nineveh Plains, which had been a centre of Christianity for 1,800 years, he added: “I told you I would stay in Iraq to serve my people and our Church. Now, I am delighted to be celebrating Holy Mass here in Iraq.”
Despite the threat of Daesh, he decided not to go to the USA where his family have settled, and instead stayed in St Peter’s Seminary in Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan, northern Iraq, where he completed his studies for the priesthood. Father Banni recalled the support of family and friends of all ages who came to his ordination to the priesthood last September. He admitted that he found leaving Karamlesh distressing. As Daesh advanced on the village on the night of 6th August 2014, he was driven away at high speed. With him was St Addai’s parish priest Father Thabet.
Despite the ongoing security concerns in the Nineveh Plains along with the massive bomb clearance and reconstruction costs associated with making the area safe again, the majority of Christians who fled to Northern Iraq want to a return to their homes. An ACN survey of the displaced people showed 41 percent definitely wanted to go back, a figure which rises to 87 percent if including those willing to return subject to assurances over security and other core concerns. Some families have already returned to their homes but nine families out of every 10 would return to their homes if conditions were right and continued support was available to help each other within their communities.
It is vital that ACN continues to lend assistance to this beleaguered Christian community – to assist religious sisters and priests so that they can guide their parishioners. ACN and others are being called upon to support Christians and priests like Father Martin in Iraq now – they are relying on us.
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 172 languages and 50 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
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