Iraqi Christians venturing back home to worship in churches ISIS destroyed

  • Written by:

Lorraine Caballero
Iraqi Christians are starting to return home for the first time in more than two years to once again worship at churches desecrated and destroyed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
(Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah)Iraqi priests hold the first Sunday mass at the Grand Immaculate Church since it was recaptured from Islamic State in Qaraqosh, near Mosul, Iraq, October 30, 2016.

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In the Christian town of Keramlis, believers gasped and sobbed as they gathered at their old parish and found the statue of the Virgin Mary decapitated by ISIS militants. Despite the structural damage they encountered, the Iraqi Christians gathered once again for mass at the St. Addai church, The Associated Press reports.

The latest church service in Keramlis was conducted three weeks after Iraqi forces began their battle to retake Mosul from ISIS. Aside from returning home to attend mass, the displaced residents also decided to check on their homes in the Christian town.

“It was amazing, I got goose bumps,” athletics teacher Sahir Shamoun said after he heard the church bells toll once again. “The bell for us means a great deal.”

Almaz Sleiman, a 54-year-old woman, sobbed as she looked around. She found it hard to describe her emotions when she saw the desecrated church, but said she was crying because of the situation in Keramlis and their current condition.

Last month, church bells in another Christian town in Iraq were also heard ringing for the first time since it was recaptured from ISIS. Dozens of believers participated in a mass at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh despite the ruined altar and the burnt walls surrounding them, Reuters details.

During the mass, Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul Butrus Moshe told the believers that Qaraqosh is now free of ISIS, which had targeted religious minorities and forced them to convert to Islam or face death. He also urged them to remove all traces of the militant group from their city including sedition and conflicts.

Iraq has been home to Christians since the first century A.D. However, the Christian population fell drastically after Saddam Hussein’s ouster in 2003 and during the two years that the ISIS occupied Mosul and purged the city of believers.