Preparing for the first Holy Mass in the Cathedral of Karakosch Since it Was Desecrated by the Islamic State (IS)
(Baghdad) The Syrian Catholic Archbishop Petros Mouche visited Baghdeda, also known as Karakosh, the largest Christian city on the Nineveh plain in northern Iraq. He celebrated the first Holy Mass in the diocesan Church. On October 18 Iraqi forces had recaptured the city from the Islamic State (IS).
It's the first time sacred hymns have been heard again in the Aramaic language
The city is littered with war wounds. The site has to be demolished before the population can return to the city. On the church wall there is the inscription "Islamic State".
The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception has suffered much damage from the two-year occupation of the Jihadists. It's the first time in 27 months that the sacred hymns have been heard in Aramaic.
Msgr. Yoanna Petros Mouche is the Syrian Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Kirkuk and the whole of Kurdistan."This church is a symbol for us," says the Metropolitian, born in 1943 in Karakosch. "I will tell you this in all seriousness: If we had not found the church like it is, if it had been destroyed, people would not want to return."
Accompanied by four priests, the archbishop visited the city weeks after its liberation from the Islamic State(IS). In the devastated church he celebrated the first Holy Mass since the flight of Christians. In his sermon, he turned directly to the jihadists, who have sacked this city, his birthplace, and left a trail of destruction.
"We have gathered here today to begin the process of cleansing this city from all traces of the Islamic State, from the hatred of which we have all become victims." And further: "There are not large and small people, not kings and slaves. This mentality must disappear. "
"The incense begins to take possession of the church again"
"For a long time, the bishop's blue eyes look at every part of the church, every sacred representation, every destruction, and every single one of the small crowd attending the Holy Mass: soldiers of the Christian militia and representatives of the city. The incense began to fill the church and 'take possession'. Each view shows a scene of destruction and each step in the Church commemorates the war: crunching underfoot is ash, dust and charred wood," wrote Asianews .
In the city one sees soldiers, but still no population. Everywhere the traces of the war are visible: burnt-out vehicles, mountains of debris, battered and blackened facades of homes. Shots are still to be heard from time to time. The roar of combat aircraft is not far away.
Father Mjeed Hazem, one of the priests who accompanied the Archbishop to Karakosh, said: "This is a new beginning. It shows the world that we Christians persevere, despite all injustices suffered."
In the forecourt of the cathedral you can see an artificial hedge and some dummies. Here is where the Islamic State(IS) performed shooting exercises. "They have no respect," says Imad Michael. The 71-year-old Christian belongs to the commander of a Christian militia dedicated to protect the Nineveh plain. It has taken over the tasks of an auxiliary police, since there is still no regular police in the city. "These are not Muslims, but unbelievers," emphasizes Imad Michael's statement, while firmly clasping his Kalashnikov.
"Then I will start with the reconstruction"
Next to him stands Michael Jelal, fifty years younger. He has shouldered his assault rifle. "I used to have many friends," says the 21-year-old Christian. There is sadness about his face: "Now many are dead or fled abroad." He hopes, says Michael Jelal, that soon life will return to the city and they can rebuild it.
"Many humanitarian organizations have come," Imad Michael told him, "and have offered the opportunity to emigrate to Lebanon, Australia or Canada. But we declined. We want our families to return. We also want those who went abroad to return."
For the time being, a lot has to be done. The city areas have been partly mined by the jihadists. The cleanup will take a long time. A nearby church was desecrated by the Islamists as a workshop for the production of bombs. "We will purify them," says Imad Michael.
"In their hearts people want to return," said Archbishop Petros Mouche. But first, security must be guaranteed. The Metropolitan himself still lives in exile in Erbil, Kurdistan.
Access to the city is forbidden for the civilian population. A week ago there was still fighting in the area. Soon the first Christians will return. "My house was burnt down. I just want to see it," says a father, who was expelled in August 2014 with his entire family. "I do not know what to expect, but I want to see it. Then I'll start the reconstruction. "
Text: Asianews / Giuseppe Nardi
Image: Asianews / MiL
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