Tears Amid Rubble And Shattered Glass: Christians Return To Iraq Church Devastated By ISIS

An earlier mass that took place at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh, which was also overrun by ISIS in 2014.Reuters

Christians openly wept as they gathered in their church in Karamles in Iraq on Sunday, which had been desecrated during two years of ISIS rule.

According to Associated Press, shattered glass covered the floor, a tomb had been severely damaged and a statue of the Virgin Mary had been beheaded.

Karamles was overrun by Islamic State in 2014 but was liberated three weeks ago as part of the offence to retake Mosul that began on October 17.

An ancient Assyrian town less than 18km from Mosul, about a third of the Christians from Karamles have fled in the last two and a half years, but the majority now live in displaced persons camps in Kurdistan.

Some returned on Sunday to take part in a prayer service at the St Addai church, led by Rev Thabet Habib.

Almaz Sleiman, 54, was among them. She cried throughout the gathering. "First when you see it of course it's unsettling, and then you cry because of the situation here and the conditions we are living in now," she told AP.

"Honestly I cannot describe the way I feel."

Sahir Shamoun, another former resident of the town, said he and his wife had returned to Karamles to find their house still standing, but looted.

"I feel great sadness," he said. "I'm not sure when or if I'll be back. I think of my children, will they have a future here?

"You put the cornerstone for your home, but still you know it's not yours. But we are stubborn people, we will keep building."

Father Thabet currently ministers to his displaced congregation in Erbil, but has returned to Karamles several times now.

Last month, he raised a cross covered with flowers on a hill overlooking the town.

"I am so happy I can do this. I'm smiling from cheek to cheek and I weep tears of joy at the same time," he said at the time, according to World Watch Monitor. "This is the trip I have been praying for, for two years now."

"My dream is to bring all the Christians back to this village. Then we will worship outside on Barbara Hill; we will have the Eucharist in the open air," he added. "Everybody will see that this is the Church; this is the Body of Christ; this is Christian land. That is my dream – to give a testimony to the world."