By Mindy Belz, World Magazine.
‘Bad news,’ is how Najeeb Michael began an email to friends and supporters on the evening of June 10, 2014. “I’m writing you in a critical and apocalyptic situation of violence.”
The Iraqi native reported that most of the inhabitants of Mosul, where the 60-year-old Dominican priest was born, had abandoned their homes and fled to the villages of the vast open Nineveh Plain, “to sleep under the stars with nothing to eat or drink.”
Following two days of attacks by ISIS militants, Michael found the city where he was living, Qaraqosh, overwhelmed with Mosul refugees—thousands and thousands of Christians, Muslims, and Yazidis who lacked food, water, and shelter in temperatures that regularly exceeded 110° F. Those not kidnapped or killed along the way had escaped as families, weary from the 20-mile walk from Mosul. Children arrived wearing pajamas, many of them barefoot, their mothers holding their hands and a few belongings stuffed into shopping bags.
For the millions in Iraq who would face the forced expulsion demanded by ISIS that year, things would only get worse. Before Michael finished writing that June email, he later told me, “ISIS was at our doorstep.” He finished the note abruptly: “They reached Qaraqosh five minutes ago and all of us are threatened. Pray for us. Devastated, I can’t go on.”
Today Christians who lived in areas now controlled by Islamic State, like Michael (his name is sometimes spelled Nageeb Mekhail), have watched two Christmases come and go, away from their homes and churches. Now they celebrate their second Easter still living in temporary housing and worshipping in makeshift facilities. Many face a future as uncertain in 2016 as it was that scorching summer of 2014.
A concerted campaign is gaining ground in Washington to declare ISIS actions against Christians and Yazidis a genocide, as prominent Catholic and Protestant leaders petition Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama. Already the European Union and other nations have taken such action. Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz have gone on record saying the mass expulsions and atrocities constitute genocide. Starting Feb. 24 the Knights of Columbus sponsored prime-time television ads urging Americans to sign a petition—spearheading an effort launched by nearly 50 evangelical, Jewish, and Catholic leaders. Within hours of going online the appeal had more than 15,000 signatures.
Father Najeeb, as Michael is called in Iraq, isn’t the type to wait for Western mobilization. By the time I met the Dominican friar in 2015, he was a legend—gathering his own resources to rescue hundreds of priceless Christian manuscripts from the hands of ISIS, ferrying scores of leather-bound editions to safety in northern Iraq and beyond, then turning his attention to what he calls the “live leather,” the people made homeless by ISIS.