Although it is Wimbledon fortnight which, together with strawberries and cream, should certainly be enjoyed, and we’re having such pleasant weather so conducive to balmy and alluring evenings in the garden or by the riverside, mid-July retains for me a poignancy because of an un-holy anniversary. It was three years ago just about now on the 13th or 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time that the Archbishop of Erbil (in Iraq) declared that, following the fall of Mosul to ISIS earlier that summer and the fleeing of the last of the Christians from their ancient capital, that this was the first Sunday in over eighteen hundred years that Mass had not been celebrated in Mosul. It was just such an astonishing fact to contemplate. That in spite of all the vicissitudes of history, its ebb and flow and seismic shifts, all the revolutions whether  political or cultural, all the cataclysms whether natural or man-made, Mass had been celebrated continuously in Mosul since the city had been evangelised in the early second century. Some of those who brought the faith from Jerusalem or, more likely, from Antioch or Damascus, could have had parents who had known St Paul on his missionary journeys! Mosul itself of course is much more ancient still, being, in Biblical times, the great city of Nineveh, to which the prophet Jonah was sent assisted by an obliging whale as is recounted in one of the shortest books in the Old Testament to which he gives his name. Given its prominence in the region actually for millennia, it was unsurprising that the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, chose to declare the new caliphate in Mosul. In his victory speech on that occasion (still on the internet), attempting to rouse the Muslim world to arms, he invoked his ultimate determination, destination and dream: “If we hold to the struggle we will conquer Rome and own the world.” Catholics ought to be apprised of ISIS’ ambition on Rome, the Church and the Holy Father, and pray the more for those who unnecessarily hate us, and for whom we have no ambition but for the fulfilment of their destiny in God. The temptation for us in hoping to restore, God willing in the next few months, the celebration of Mass in Mosul, is to place our hope in worldly or military power, the current painstakingly slow and utterly devastating recapture of Mosul by the Iraqi army. Yet we see prophesied in today’s first reading, Christ, the King of Kings, riding on a donkey. He bids us share His yoke and learn from Him in His gentleness and humility of heart. Let us pray and think hard that in such challenging times we may truly do His will and so find peace for the world and rest for our souls.

Posted on July 7, 2017 .