On October 30, a handful of Christians, including members of the Nineveh Plain Protection Units, the local Christian militia, came together in a burnt out church in Qaraqosh to celebrate the first mass in the town in over two years. Iraqi forces retook the town from the Islamic State a few days earlier as part of their offensive to take back the city of Mosul from the terrorist group.
“After two years and three months in exile, I just celebrated the Eucharist in the cathedral of the Immaculate Conception [that] the Islamic State wanted to destroy” said Yohanna Petros Mouche, the Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul.
In June 2014, ISIS militants took over a number of towns in Iraq including Qaraqosh and Mosul, two of the largest primarily Christian towns in the country. Many Christians from this are were forced to flee into Kurdish-controlled areas until the Islamic State later forced around 120,000 Iraqi Christians and members of other minorities to leave those towns and villages as well.
“We had no other choice by the convert or become slaves. We fled to preserve our faith. Now we’re going to need international protection,” said Father Majeed Hazem.
Samer Shabaon, a militiaman who helped retake Qaraqosh, said “I can’t describe what I’m feeling. This is my land, my church.”
The bell tower of the church was damaged, statues were decapitation and the walls were covered in soot from the fire the terrorist militants lit when they left. Many crosses have already been replaced. “This church is such a powerful symbol that if we hadn’t found it like this, damaged but still standing, I’m not sure residents would have wanted to come back but the fact that it is still here gives us hope,” Archbishop Mouche expressed.
The seminary library of the church was completely burnt down and the ashes were still warm when the Archbishop saw it, “This is barely a few days old- the jihadists torched it when soldiers started entering the town.”
The ISIS jihadists appear to previously used the back yard of the cathedral for target practice. Casings were all over the ground and pillars were filled with bullet impacts.
It could be months until people are able to safely return to Qaraqosh, but Archbishop Mouche said “I hope to celebrate a Christmas mass in Mosul cathedral.”
Christians face greater oppression today than under Saddam Hussain. This is why Christians fled from Baghdad north to the Nineveh Plain and Kurdish areas. It is in these areas that our Diapers for Refugees and Christmas for Refugees program is operating. We are currently in the process of planning ways to expand our Christmas for Refugees program to incorporate other towns, including Bartella, that have recently been liberated from the Islamic State’s control.
First results for matching challenge Christmas program: After the current Chairman’s Report was printed, very encouraging donations were received to help meet the Christmas matching challenge. Remember: All gifts to Christmas for Refugees received by December 1st will be doubled, up to $55,400. That means if we reach that threshold the donations will be doubled to $110,800. What a blessing that would be to the children at Christmas.
Please pray for the Christmas program this year and the safety of the children. We charter only large safe, buses, the type you would ride on when taking a tour. The safety of the children is always my number one concern.
Large gatherings of Christians in one place in any majority Muslim nation can be problematic. The Kurds in northern Iraq are friendly now, but they assisted in the Ottoman Empire’s mass murder of Christians as recently as 1915. Islam is Islam.