From Daily Mail: Christians celebrated Christmas in Iraq‘s second city of Mosul for the first time in four years today – and hymns and cries of joy flooded the church. The seasonal event marked the end of jihadist rule in the city and the Mass opened with the Iraqi national anthem as women wailed with emotion.
Despite the modest interior of the church and the armoured police outside, wheelchair-bound Hossam Abud, 48, who returned this month from exile in Iraqi Kurdistan, said: ‘This is a sign that life is returning to Mosul.’
In 2014 when the Islamic State group seized the city ordering people to convert, pay taxes, leave or die, Mr. Abud and thousands of other Christians fled Mosul.
Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church called on the congregation to pray for ‘peace and stability in Mosul, Iraq and the world’.
‘With this mass, we’re sending a message of peace and love, because Christ is the messenger of peace.’
Saint Paul’s church in east Mosul saw Muslims stand together today with Christian worshippers and local officials surrounded by candles and Christmas trees. As a reminder of the city’s bleak recent history a portrait of a Christian killed under IS rule was displayed outside the church.
Iraqi forces expelled the jihadist group from Mosul in July after months of ferocious fighting. Large parts of Syria and nearly a third of Iraq were once ruled over by the organisation who were decimated in a string of defeats.
The windows that were once blasted empty during the conflict were covered by white sheets today.
Farqad Malko, a Christian woman in the congregation said, mass was a message to IS. She said: ‘With this celebration, we tell them that residents of Mosul are all brothers, whatever their religion or ethnicity, and despite all the damage and suffering.’
Sunday’s church service in eastern Mosul was ‘an immense joy’, she said, smiling broadly as seasonal hymns played in the background.
Saint Paul’s is currently the only functioning church in Mosul, and is only open thanks to the clean-up efforts of young volunteers. Mr. Abud added: ‘We must rebuild the city’s churches that were destroyed to encourage the return of Christians.’
The 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq had by 2014 pushed some 90 percent of Mosul’s Christian population to flee, leaving only 2,000 families when it was captured by IS, officials and activists say. Sako urged Christians displaced within Iraq and those who have sought refuge abroad to return and ‘play an active role in (the city’s) reconstruction’.
Between 70 and 80 Christian families have so far returned ‘and more are expected to follow soon’, according to Dourid Tobia, an advisor on Christian affairs to the provincial governor.
Mina Ramez, 20, returned with her family two months ago, in time for the start of the new university year. She said: ‘This is our land, these are our homes, and we will do everything we can with our brothers of all religions to rebuild it. We will never abandon the land of our birth.’