Iraqi Christians Prepare to Celebrate Easter Again in Former Islamic State Territories

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Iraqi Syriac Christian priest Charbel Aesso leads an easter service at Saint John’s Church (Mar Yohanna) in the nearly deserted predominantly Christian Iraqi town of Qaraqosh on April 16, 2017 near Mosul, Iraq. Qaraqosh was retaken by Iraqi forces in 2016 during the offensive to capture the nearby city of Mosul from Islamic State but it remains almost completely deserted. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
Carl Court/Getty Images

by Edwin Mora30 Mar 201823
Many followers of Jesus Christ in Iraq will get to celebrate Easter at home for the first time since fleeing the region in 2014, when the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) began its genocide campaign against the religious minority group.

Iraq, particularly the Nineveh Plain area, is known as the cradle of Christianity.

In 2014, ISIS forced many Christian families out of their historical homeland, including the village of Qaraqosh.

Many of the Jesus followers who returned to Iraq have reunited with their families following the defeating blow the U.S.-led coalition and local forces dealt ISIS on the battlefield late last year, marking the revival of the Iraqi Christian community in places like Qaraqosh.

Open Doors, an organization that tracks the persecution of Christians across the world, reported on March 26:

For the first time since ISIS drove Christians from Iraq’s Nineveh Plain in 2014, the Christian village of Qaraqosh is celebrating Easter after many of its families returned. Yesterday, our on-the-ground team was there as thousands of Christians filled the streets to wave palm branches and celebrate Palm Sunday. Today, they meet with believers in the town as they prepare to celebrate Easter together back in their homes after three years of displacement.

During Palm Sunday Mass in Qaraqosh on March 25, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan praised his flock for not losing their faith during the nearly three-year genocide campaign at the hands of ISIS.

His comments came while he celebrated mass at the partly destroyed cathedral in Qaraqosh.

“We will remain faithful to our Christian call, and we will remain lovers of our church despite all the horrors that have afflicted us,” the Syriac Catholic patriarch told the faithful.

“This magnificent church attests to the criminal acts of those criminals and terrorists,” he added, referring to the damaged cathedral in Qaraqosh.

From around mid-2014 until the U.S.-led coalition and local forces liberated Qaraqosh in October 2017, ISIS occupied the city.

Since its liberation, “around 5,000 families have returned to the city that used to be a home to 50,000 Christians. They are now rebuilding their lives amidst the ruins and rubble that IS [Islamic State] left behind,” World Watch Monitor news reported, adding:

On Palm Sunday, celebrations saw thousands of Christians take to the streets of the ancient city, where they marched, waving palm and olive branches, and chanted Christian songs. The march culminated in an open-air religious service on the square of St. John’s Church.

The Catholic Universe newspaper acknowledged that ISIS nearly emptied Christian town of Qaraqosh in just one night in 2014, reporting:

In a single night during the summer of 2014, the town’s entire population of some 50,000 Christians was forcibly displaced by the Islamic State. In all, more than 100,000 Christians were evicted from the Nineveh Plain and Mosul that summer during [ISIS’s] campaign of terror in Iraq, and those uprooted fled to the Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

“The forced displacement imposed on you is not easy,” declared Patriarch Younan, commending Christians for enduring the jihadi campaign in Iraq.