Overcome this "catastrophic, painful and tragic" experience, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphaël Sako of Babylon urged the Christians of Mosul and the Nineveh plain in a message sent to La Croix on Wednesday, July 12.
Former residents should act quickly to "reclaim their land before others seize it", he warned.
Mosul and the Nineveh plain were recently liberated from ISIS control by the Iraqi army.
Nevertheless, Patriarch Sako admitted that "there is still a long way to go before ISIS is completely eradicated from the region, and before rebuilding everything that has been destroyed and re-establishing a peaceful, safe and stable atmosphere".
However, he called on Christians from the region to "not waste time waiting" to return to "the land of their parents and grandparents", to "their identity, their inheritance".
Reaffirming the presence of Christians
"We must always keep in mind the fact that we are considered the 'indigenous' people of this country, of its ancient civilization, and that our history is embedded in the oldest Church in the world," Patriarch Sako noted.
He also invited Christians to "reconnect with their ethical and moral commitment, to confirm their presence [in person] and claim compensations for their losses".
It is still unclear, however, whether the Christians of Mosul will begin the process of returning within the next few days, weeks or even months to come.
"They have suffered great trauma and many still fear the presence of dormant jihadi groups in the city," explained the president of Fratenité en Irak (Brotherhood with Iraq), Faraj Benoît Camurat in an interview with La Croix on Monday, July 10.
"No one knows whether the families will be able to reclaim the land and houses expropriated by ISIS," he said.
Huge reconstruction projects in West Mosul
In the eastern quarters of Mosul, life has long since resumed. Most houses in this area were not affected by targeted strikes, and shops and restaurants are back in business.
On the other hand, a huge volume of reconstruction will be required for West Mosul to become habitable again.
In addition to the extensive demining operations that will be needed to remove the vast quantity of mines and explosives spread across the area, most essential infrastructure providing access to water, electricity and medical aid will need to be rebuilt.
Christians will need to participate in this effort "to facilitate the return of refugees to their homes", which is the primary necessity, Patriarch Sako said.
Make Christian voices heard
He went on to urge Christians to take part in Iraqi political life, despite the "recent decline in their numbers".
He explained that they could do so by "forming a small group of seven to ten solid citizens who are able to function as spokespersons for the Christian community".
"[Who are ] capable of working alongside loyal politicians, and who will be able to communicate (...) at a national and international level."
In order to achieve this, they needed to renounce any "personal interest" and to advocate for "solidarity, cooperation" alongside Muslim representatives and other communities.
Patriarch Sako called for the opening of a "central media office" in Nineveh, "which would ensure that Christian voices are heard while highlighting their suffering and expectations".
This would "help them overcome the current difficulties and transform their differences into constructive unity", he explained.
Finally, Christians are called to pray to God for the protection of all Iraqis and to help the various communities in the country rebuild "a better future" together, "based on their past experience and history of [peaceful] coexistence", Patriarch Sako concluded.