A priest in Ainkawa blesses new statues of the Virgin Mary brought by L'Œuvre d'Orient. Photo: Manweel Banna | L'Œuvre d'Orient
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – A Catholic charity in France has sent 15 Virgin Mary statues to Iraq to replace those destroyed by ISIS during the group’s three-plus-year targeting of those it deemed to not follow its brand of religion.
The Catholic organization in France L'Œuvre d'Orient or “The
Work of the Orient” sent the statues to Erbil in the Kurdistan
Region earlier this week to replace those destroyed by ISIS.
The Virgin Mother statues, which measure 1.5 meters tall, firstly were
sent to Ainkawa, the Christian area of Erbil. They are pearl white with the
praying mother wearing a sky blue sash with golden-painted rosary beads draped
on her right arm.
Father Rodolphe Vigneron is blessing the statues this
weekend, then they will be sent to Chaldean, Syriac and Assyrian churches in the
Nineveh Plains towns of Qaraqosh, Karemles and Bartella, according to L'Œuvre d'Orient.
These and other Christian-populated ares were razed by ISIS during the group’s destructive reign that began in the summer of 2014 and has largely been halted in the province because of the efforts of Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces, backed by the international coalition of which France is a key partner.
A fighter from the Nineveh Plain Protection Units walks through a destroyed church on November 8, 2016 in Qaraqosh, Iraq. The NPU is a military organization made up of Iraqi Christians formed in late 2014 to defend against ISIS. Photo: Chris McGrath | AFP
Especially in the Catholic faiths, Mary is a canonized saint
for being the mother of Jesus. Catholic churches often have elaborate shrines
and sepulchres revering her.
Œuvre d’Orient was founded in 1856 by laymen and professors and
is devoted to helping Christians of the East.
Prior to the rise of ISIS in 2014, there were about 400,000
Christians in Iraq of various Chaldean, Assyrian, Syriacs and Armenian sects.
Now local advocacy groups say there are about 200,000 Christians sheltered
in the Kurdistan Region with about that many having sought refuge abroad.
As of last December, Iraqi officials said more than 100
churches and monasteries in Mosul alone have been demolished by ISIS.