Print Version    Email to Friend
A Mass of hope in Iraq

ERBIL (AsiaNews): Even a thick layer of soot covering the walls of the church was not enough to obliterate graffiti proclaiming Islamic State scrawled across the remains of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Qaraqosh, Iraq, from sight, as Archbishop Petros Mouche prepared to offer the first Mass in the remains of the once stately building in two years on October 30.

Amidst tiles that have crumbled from the heat of fire, overturned pews and a partially collapsed roof, the first Mass in 24 months was offered to the echo of Aramaic hymns in the nation’s most important Christian city.

The Syrian Catholic archbishop of Mosul, Kirkuk and the whole of Kurdistan, described the church as an important symbol. 

“I tell you clearly, if we had not found it as is now, if it had been really destroyed, the Qaraqosh people would not want to return,” the bishop of the ruined city said.

Together with four priests, the archbishop came back to Qaraqosh to offer the first Mass since the fall of the city and the flight of its inhabitants. He made a direct reference to those who burned the city where he was born 73 years ago.

“We have gathered here today to clean up this city from all traces of the Islamic State, the hatred of which we have all been victims,” he said.

“There are no great men and little men, there are no kings and slaves. This mentality must disappear,” he stressed, as he gazed around at the handful of political leaders and soldiers from the Christian militias gathered for the important occasion.

As the aroma of incense mixed with the stench of the ash and feet crunched on the charred wooden debris, the church at the centre of the city which now teems with soldiers, yet is bereft of inhabitants, became a symbol of a new beginning.

Burned out cars lie at rest in piles of rubble to the background of blackened bullet hole-riddled façades of crumbling houses that were once homes to many families.

Occasional gunfire breaks the quiet of the peace and the roar of the coalition planes reminds people that the situation is fragile.

Father Majeed Hazem called the first Mass in two years “a new beginning that will show the world the strength of Christians, despite the injustice.”

Seventy-one-year-old Imad Michael, who joined the Security Unit of the Nineveh Plain, a Christian militia that acts as a security outpost for the ghost town, said, “In truth, they (Islamic State) are not Muslims, but infidels.”

Forty years his junior, Michael Jelal, said he has hopes of a quick return of the population, as he braced himself under the weight of his assault weapon.

“Before I had many friends, but they are all gone and moved abroad,” he lamented.

“Many humanitarian organisations came to visit us,” one priest explained.

He said that they suggested he move to Lebanon, Australia or Canada, but he refused. “We want our families to come back here, we also want those who have left for foreign countries to come home,” he said.

However, the city is far from safe, as it is riddled with landmines, which have to be swept before it will be safe to allow civilians to return.

More from this section