Iraqi Christians worship amid church ruins for first time since liberation

Iraqi priests hold the first Sunday mass at the Grand Immaculate Church since it was recaptured from the Islamic State in Qaraqosh, near Mosul, Iraq, October 30 2016. (PHOTO: Ahmed Jadallah)

Originally published in The Christian Post

After more than two years of intense suffering and persecution at the hands of the Islamic State terror group in Iraq, Christians are celebrating mass inside a charred church near Mosul, marking further success in the military campaign to drive out the extremists.

Reuters reports that around a dozen Iraqi Christians were gathered at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh on Sunday for the celebration.

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“Today Qaraqosh is free of Daesh (Islamic State),” Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul Butrus Moshe told worshipers.

An Iraqi Christian soldier lights a candle during the first Sunday mass at the Grand Immaculate Church since it was recaptured from Islamic State in Qaraqosh, near Mosul in Iraq, October 30 2016. (PHOTO: Ahmed Jadallah)

Qaraqosh taken back from IS
Qaraqosh is among the towns surrounding Mosul that have been taken back from IS’ control in the ongoing offensive, as Iraqi troops backed by US air forces are aiming to retake one of IS’ last remaining strongholds in Iraq.

The terror group, which has also captured a number of cities in Syria, has been slaughtering and driving Christians out of their ancestral homelands for the past two years, threatening them with death or enslavement if they stayed.

This forced many of the 125 000 or so Christians in the region to abandon their homes in or around Mosul, but now they are hoping to see IS driven out for good, so that they can return and live in peace.

“Our role today is to remove all the remnants of Daesh [ISIS],” the archbishop continued. “This includes erasing sedition, separation and conflicts, which victimised us.”

“Political and sectarian strife, separating between one man and another, between ruler and follower, these mentalities must be changed,” he said.

Father Ammar and another priest stand with Christian soldiers by a newly erected cross on the roof of his church in Qaraqosh. (PHOTO: World Watch Monitor)

Christian priests returning to villages
Meanwhile, Iraq’s Christian priests are returning to the villages from which they were ejected by Islamic State, according to World Watch Monitor.

Christian Today reported that Father Ammar visited his old church in Qaraqosh and reinstated the cross there helped by Christian soldiers guarding the village.

“I praise God for this wonderful day,” he said. “Yes, they destroyed and burned some houses and churches, but we can rebuild them. What counts is that we have prayed here and have put up the cross.

“After being away for exactly 811 days, after being attacked by the forces of darkness and evil, we have come back to worship in freedom.”

Another priest, Father Thabet, who lives with his congregation in a complex for internally displaced people in Erbil, brought a cross covered with flowers with him when he returned to his home village of Karamles, according to Christian Today.

Father Thabet erects a Cross made of flowers on a hill opposite Karamles.

Liberation giving hope
Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda told The Christian Post earlier in October that the effort to free Mosul is giving hope to thousands of displaced Christian families after the small villages of Bartella and Mar Oraha were two of the first to be liberated.

The gradual liberation of the Mosul region, if it continues to make gains, will be an answered prayer for Iraqi Christians as a whole, though faith leaders are quick to point out that there is a lot of work ahead.

“Of course the military operation is just the first of several phases paving the way for their return. They will need security and other guarantees before they go back,” Father Emanuel Youkhana of the Assyrian Church of the East added. “Also much reconstruction and rehabilitation of the region occupied by the Islamic State militants will need to take place.”

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