Hundreds of Iraqi Christians return to burned out churches to celebrate Palm Sunday

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On 9 April hundreds of Christians celebrated Palm Sunday in burned out churches in Qaraqosh and Karamles, towns near Mosul that were recently liberated from the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS).
Qaraqosh was Iraq’s largest Christian town until its 50,000 inhabitants were forced to flee in August 2014. The displaced Christians haven’t been able to move back to Qaraqosh since the liberation of the town, as there is continuing insecurity in the region, and houses and infrastructure have been destroyed.

But for one day, they were able to go back and celebrate their faith. Hundreds of Christians marched through the streets of Qaraqosh, some carrying big banners saying ‘Blessed is he who is coming in the name of the Lord, hallelujah’ or ‘Hosanna for the Son of David’, others walking with palm leaves, remembering Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem when he was welcomed by people waving palm leaves. They then held a church service in the burned and damaged church. “Thank God, we are returning to our towns and churches after two years,” said one of the church leaders in Qaraqosh.

Between 400 and 500 church members also returned to Karamles to celebrate Palm Sunday. Karamles is a Christian village that was home to 800 families before the invasion of IS; despite being liberated, the damage to the village means that families haven’t been able to return yet. But Father Thabet, the local church leader, organised for the church to be cleaned and repaired in the week leading up to Palm Sunday so that displaced Christians could return to celebrate.

Father Thabet said, “I am very happy we could do so. After the church service we had a meal on the hill of Saint Barbara. Seeing all the people made me cry. I was very happy to return and celebrate, this was very significant for me and for many people from Karamles.”

He is planning to move a big generator to Karamles after Easter, so that families that want to begin repairing their homes will have access to electricity. A house next to the church is being turned into a Centre of Encouragement and Support, where people can stay while they work on their homes.

“But this week we will have our preparations for the celebration of Easter,” Thabet said. “We will have that celebration in Ankawa. We already had the celebration at Palm Sunday and it takes much to organise going to our village.”

Father Thabet is hopeful for the future: “This year we are waiting to return back to our place and we hope we can celebrate the full Easter next year in Karamles.”

Iraq is number 7 on the 2017 Open Doors World Watch List. Open Doors has been working with local partners and churches in Iraq for over 20 years to support the church through training, crisis relief, community development projects, and distributing Bibles and Christian literature. Open Doors local partners have provided vital aid for tens of thousands of displaced families, and are working to provide long-term support to displaced Christians as they begin to rebuild their lives, including helping families who wish to return to the Nineveh plain to rebuild their homes, and starting small businesses to give people the dignity of supporting their own families.

Open Doors has launched the Hope for the Middle East campaign, a global, seven-year campaign mobilising Christians around the world to stand with the church in the Middle East. As part of this, Open Doors is asking people to sign the One Million Voices of Hope petition, which will be presented to the UN in December 2017. The petition calls for equality, dignity and responsibility for Christians and other minorities in Syria and Iraq, the key things Christians and church leaders from these nations have said they want for the future.

See more photos of the celebration in Qaraqosh on ICN’s Facebook page.