Celebrating Christmas for the first time since 2013, several hundred Iraqi Christians flocked on Saturday to a northern town recently retaken from Islamic State. Their joy was tainted with sadness over the desecration of their church.
Expressing their joy at returning to the place where many of them said they had been baptized, women holding candles ululated as they went into the town’s Mar Shimoni church.
Bartella emptied in August 2014 when it fell to Islamic State’s blitz across large parts of Iraq and neighboring Syria. The town was once home to thousands of Assyrian Christians. Iraqi forces took it back in the first few days of the U.S.-backed offensive that started in October.