(REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah)An Iraqi priest holds the first Sunday mass at the Grand Immaculate Church since it was recaptured from Islamic State in Qaraqosh, near Mosul, Iraq, last Nov. 30.
Iraqi Christians wept when they saw the condition of the church in the Iraqi Christian town of Keramlis last Sunday. It was the first time the Christians had stepped into St. Addai Church since ISIS took over the town in August 2014.
The sound of broken glass crunched under the feet of the parishioners as Rev. Thabet Habib recited prayers at the church.
According to a report from the Associated Press, a statue of the Virgin Mary was destroyed. Apart from the statue, a confessional was turned into a closet, the prayer benches were burned and a tomb was desecrated. Most of the houses in the town were also destroyed.
Many of its residents currently live in camps in the Kurdish region of Iraq while others have left the country altogether.
Emotions ran high when the parishioners heard the bell toll at the church for the first time in more than two years.
“It was amazing, I got goose bumps. The bell for us means a great deal,” said Sahir Shamoun,” an athletics teacher who drove to the town to check on their home.
Shamoun found his house largely intact but all his furniture had been stolen. “I feel great sadness. I’m not sure when or if I’ll be back. I think of my children, will they have a future here?” he said.
He now believes that the situation of Christians in the Middle East is bleak as he had been displaced five times.
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“You put the cornerstone for your home, but still you know it’s not yours. But we are stubborn people, we will keep building,” he said.
In Qaraqosh, another recently liberated Christian town southeast of Mosul, Christians found the Church of the Immaculate Conception charred black from fire and riddled with ISIS graffiti. The militants cut off the head of the statue of Jesus and used the church’s courtyard as target practice.
Other parts of the town have also been left in ruins. “ISIS destroyed the shops and even the local school where my uncle taught. You can see ISIS hand of destruction everywhere,” a Christian fighter named Saleh Abu-Yousef told The Sun.
Despite the destruction, Abu-Yousef said that he and other Christians will rebuild the town.
“My house maybe destroyed but now we have Qaraqosh back, I and other Christians will return,” he added.