The Cross Is Back: Iraqi Priests Raise Symbol Of Hope In Shattered Christian Villages

Fr Ammar and another priest stand with Christian soldiers by a newly erected cross on the roof of his church in Qaraqosh.World Watch Monitor

Iraq's Christian priests are returning to the villages from which they were ejected by Islamic State, according to World Watch Monitor.

The Iraqi push toward Mosul, which has already seen special forces enter the outskirts of the city, has seen many villages like Karamles and Qaraqosh released from ISIS control.

In Qaraqosh, Father Ammar visited his old church and reinstated the cross there helped by Christian soldiers guarding the village.

"I praise God for this wonderful day," he said. "Yes, they destroyed and burned some houses and churches, but we can rebuild them. What counts is that we have prayed here and have put up the cross.

"After being away for exactly 811 days, after being attacked by the forces of darkness and evil, we have come back to worship in freedom."

He also found 40 ancient documents overlooked by ISIS and took them back to Erbil. "For us those documents are our link with our history and are therefore very important," he said.

Another priest, Father Thabet, who lives with his congregation in a complex for internally displaced people in Erbil, brought a cross covered with flowers with him when he returned to his home village of Karamles.

"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. "This is the trip I have been praying for, for two years now."

He climbed Barbara Hill, next to his village, and planted the cross in the ground overlooking Karamles.

"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 said. "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."

The church in Karamles has been badly damaged by ISiS, but is repairable.

ISIS overran the Nineveh Plain, home to most of Iraq's Christians, in 2014 after a surprise assault saw the collapse of the Iraqi army's resistance. The battle for Mosul, Iraq's second city, is continuing, and the villages are not yet safe enough to inhabit. World Watch Monitor cited a Christian photographer who just returned from Qaraqosh and who estimated that 30 per cent of the houses have been severely damaged or destroyed.