KARAMLESH, Iraq, May 23 — Martin Baani was just 24 years old when he risked his life as a seminarian to rescue the Blessed Sacrament from the imminent invasion of Islamic State terrorists in his hometown.
Now, he is returning to his native village as a priest, ready to serve the people through the Eucharist.
On August 6, 2014, Baani received a call from a friend who warned that a nearby village had fallen into the hands of ISIS and that his hometown of Karamlesh would be next.
Baani promptly headed to San Addai Church and took the Blessed Sacrament, to prevent the jihadists from desecrating it. That day, he fled in a car along with his pastor, Father Thabet, and three other priests.
“I was the last one to leave Karamlesh, with the Blessed Sacrament in my hands,” he told the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need.
Despite threats from ISIS, Baani chose to stay in Iraq instead of fleeing with his family to the United States. He continued his studies at St. Peter’s Seminary in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.
In September 2016, Baani was ordained a priest along with six other men.
Around 500 people attended the ordination, which was presided over by the patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, Louis Raphael Sako.
A few months before his ordination, Baani told Aid to the Church in Need: “Every day I go to the refugee camps to accompany the families. We are Christian refugees. ISIS wants to eliminate Christianity from Iraq, but I have decided to stay. I love Jesus, and I don’t want our history to disappear.”
Almost a year later, following the liberation of the villages of the Plain of Nineveh from ISIS control, Father Banni confirmed his decision to stay in Iraq in order to “serve my people and our Church.”
“Now I am happy to celebrate holy Mass in Iraq,” he said.
Aid to the Church in Need has currently planned the reconstruction of about 13,000 Christian homes that were destroyed by ISIS.
Several weeks ago, the foundation held an “olive-tree ceremony,” delivering olive plants to the homeowners of 105 Christian homes in the villages of Bartella, Karmalesh and Qaraqosh as a symbol of peace and reconciliation.