Iraqi Christians embark on an 80-mile march for peace on Palm Sunday

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Jardine Malado
(Reuters/Suhaib Salem)Iraqis attend the first Palm Sunday procession in the burnt out main church of the Christian city of Qaraqosh since Iraqi forces retook it from Islamic States militants, Iraq April 9, 2017.
Iraqi Christians from villages surrounding Mosul have gathered in the Ashty Camp in Northern Iraq to embark on an 80-mile march to call for an end to violence in their country as well as other parts of the Middle East.

The march, which began on Palm Sunday, will stretch for about 80 miles from the Ashty camp to the village of Qaraqosh, which is one of the largest traditionally Christian villages in Iraq.

“On this Palm Sunday, we thank God for liberating our villages from the Islamic State,” Father Youssef said, as reported by Sojo. “We hope that this Holy Week, we will rise again. We pray that peace comes, once again, to our lands,” he continued.

About 100 people, including a few foreigners, have signed up to participate in the peace march, according to Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad of the Chaldean Catholic Church.

“They will walk from Irbil to Alqosh in the Ninevah Plain, needing one week or more because the journey is very long, some 87 miles. I will join them in a village near Alqosh on Holy Thursday,” Sako told Catholic News Service.

Instead of taking communion, Youssef encouraged the participants to take a single olive branch to symbolize the peace that they hope would come back to the Christian community after the defeat of ISIS.

About 1.4 million Christians resided in Iraq in 2003, but their numbers have been reduced to only about 250,000. Many have been killed while others fled the deadly and frequent attacks carried out by the terror group.

Iraqi security forces, with the support of a U.S.-led coalition, have recaptured several cities, including eastern Mosul, from ISIS last year. They are now engaged in a battle to liberate the western parts of Mosul.

The organizers of the march, as well as other Iraqi Christian leaders, are encouraging the Christian community to return to their homes. But many displaced Iraqis are still wondering if they will ever be able to return home as some places, such as Bartella, Bashiqa, and Qaraqosh, are now largely ghost towns covered in rubble.

Samira, a mother of five who has lived in the camp for the past two and a half years, had been informed by her sons that their home in Qaraqosh had been destroyed in the fighting. She said she is grateful that she was able to live in the camp, but she still yearns to go back to Qaraqosh.

“I wish I could join the march, and live in Qaraqosh again. It’s the most beautiful place in the world — but without our home it wouldn’t be the same,” said Samira.