Priest Rescues Over 1,000 Ancient Christian Documents as ISIS Overtakes City

( [email protected] ) Nov 04, 2014 02:55 PM EST
Father Nageeb
Father Nageeb holds one of the ancient Christian documents he rescued (Photo: Sharmila Devi/AINA)

Over 1,000 ancient Christian documents have been saved by a Dominican priest who escaped Islamic State militants in Iraq.

According to a Kurdish news agency, Father Nageeb Michaeel, previously director of the Digital Centre for Eastern Manuscripts at the Mar Behnam Syriac Catholic Monastery, fled Qaraqosh in the middle of the night with thousands of other Christians and religious minorities as ISIS drew near to the city.

But before fleeing, Father Nageeb made sure to  send a collection of 1,300 ancient Christian documents ahead in a vehicle, ensuring they were safely out of ISIS clutches.

According to reports, the priest had been in the process of digitising the collection, which is comprised of "really important patriarchal manuscripts" borrowed from the Chaldean Patriarchate in Baghdad.

"The pamphlets comprise a sizeable part of Iraq's cultural heritage," he said, adding that some of them are from the 14th century and are currently hidden in a safe house.

After Father Nageeb arrived in Erbil, he walked for miles on foot with around 30,000 others.

"It was terrible. There were women and children with no food and water," he said of the ordeal.

Shortly after Father Nageeb's escape, Qaraqosh, which had been home to Iraq's largest Christian community, and four other Christian-majority towns were captured by Islamic State militants.

"If I hadn't transported and kept the manuscripts, they would have been destroyed like so many churches and monasteries in Mosul and the Nineveh plain," Father Nageeb said.

"[ISIS] has no respect for intellectuals. In Mosul, they killed many doctors and professors who were Muslim."

Currently, the priest is helping those who have been displaced in Erbil to find food, water and shelter. But the thousands of displaced minorities are are quickly becoming discouraged, fearing there will be no end to their misery.

"We are in a tunnel and cannot see the light," he said.

However, Father Nageeb says he will continue to help fellow believers and preserve Iraq's rich history.

"I want to be there to help people-especially the handicapped, the homeless, and families who are in trouble-not just with material things but also to help give them direction, power, and faith. We are there supporting each other, walking together, falling together," he said.

He continued: "We trust in God, and we believe that God is good. We also believe in doing good to each other. There are many minorities in Iraq, and most of them are afraid. Many things are good in Iraq, but they are hidden. We are scared to do good to each other because so much has been destroyed. But many people want to do what is good, to rebuild Iraq, and to prepare for the future."