Lingering in limbo

Saad Hormuz lived the IS nightmare in person. On 6 August 2014, IS fighters swept into Bartalla, the diverse town on the edges of Mosul where Hormuz had worked as a taxi driver. "First, we fled towards Al-Qosh," another Christian town further north, he said.

But as the jihadists kept up their pillaging of Nineveh, they escaped to Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish region. With his wife Afnan, 48, and their four children – Natalie, 7, Nores, 15, Franz, 16, and Fadi, 19 – they lived in a church for a month before renting an apartment at $150 per month for nearly three years. That severely strained their finances.

Three years later, Iraq's military declared it had freed Bartalla from IS's grip. The Hormuz family was elated and rushed back to resume life in their hometown. But they found their home had been torched and ransacked, and that members of the Hashed al-Shaabi, a powerful state-sponsored paramilitary network formed from mostly-Shia armed groups and volunteers to fight IS, now controlled Bartalla.

"We lived in fear. There were checkpoints and militias everywhere. Once, they even asked my wife to wear a veil," said Hormuz. "So I decided to sell everything, even my car, and move to Jordan."

They have lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Amman since February 2018, hoping to be resettled permanently in Canada, where he and his wife have family connections. With COVID-19 slowing down all international travel, the immigration process has been indefinitely frozen as their savings dwindle further.

Registered as a refugee in Jordan, Hormuz does not have the right to work legally and relies on soup kitchens at Amman's few churches to keep his family fed.

"I hope that through his visit to Iraq, the pope will ask countries receiving Christian refugees to help us," he said. "Going back to Iraq is out of the question."

Exile and rebirth

Many in Chaldean Bishop Saad Sirop Hanna's parishes in Sweden feel the same way. Born in Baghdad, Hanna, 40, was sent in 2017 to lead Europe's largest Chaldean congregation of around 25,000 people, who had arrived in Sweden in waves over the past four decades. He lived through much of the violence they had fled, describing it as "great chaos". In 2006, he was kidnapped after presiding over mass in the Iraqi capital.

"I was held and went through lots of experiences – including torture and isolation," said Hanna. "This experience also gave me strength, truth be told. I was born again. I look at life again with a great blessing and a great love."

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