By Dale Gavlak
AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) – Catholic clergy lamented the destruction of Iraq’s oldest Christian monastery, St. Elijah, and urged the international community to do more to stop such assaults.
“I had the same emotional and perhaps spiritual experience as I did when I was standing over the bodies of fallen soldiers,” Father Jeffrey Whorton said after seeing pictures of the monastery’s destruction.
Father Whorton served as Catholic chaplain for the U.S. military in Iraq and holds the rank of major, was instrumental along with others in seeing a preservation initiative mounted on the 1,400-old structure. Father Whorton said he believed he was the last priest in 2009 to “offer Mass on that altar before it was destroyed.”
The last recorded church service in recent years to take place inside the monastery’s walls was the Easter Vigil in 2010, but that was held in the courtyard rather than the altar area.
Reading of the destruction “was that profound and surprisingly strong emotion because of my connection with the monastery,” said Father Whorton, who now works at Fort Bragg, North
Carolina. “It was a kind of a grief that was like a loss of life almost.”
The Associated Press confirmed, with exclusive satellite images, that the ancient monastery on the outskirts of Mosul had been turned into a field of rubble. Islamic State militants claimed responsibility.
Father Whorton said the chance to both worship and give informal tours of the monastery during his tour of duty in Iraq “was probably the highlight of my entire priesthood.”
“I was able to offer Mass there three or four times on that altar. I was made very aware of the great cloud of witnesses,” said Father Whorton, explaining his sense of those ancient Christians who had worshipped over the centuries at St. Elijah.