Three years since the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, also known as ISIL or ISIS, took over the town of Qaraqosh in Iraq, hundreds of Christians were finally able to return and celebrate mass on Palm Sunday.
A report from Reuters said that the religious minority from the war-torn nation gathered at the ruins of the burnt Immaculate Conception church to celebrate Palm Sunday and the beginning of the Holy Week. Cars from the city of Erbil flocked to the town to bring in hundreds of worshippers eager to observe and attend mass.
After Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul Butrus Moshe celebrated the Eucharist, he addressed the crowd and said, "We need reconciliation." The town of Qaraqosh was heavily ruined by the militant forces that took over and sent the Christians fleeing for their lives.
Those who returned to observe the celebration expressed their delight in being able to step foot once again in the town.
"Thank God, we are returning to our towns and churches after two years," exclaimed Iraqi priest Abu Naimat Anay to Agence France-Presse as he entered the church which still housed scribbles of the ISIS slogan on its walls.
Soldiers guarded the place and the worshippers to provide security to a town that has long been targeted by militants because of the Christian minority present there. They escorted the worshippers as they took a walk around the town with a banner that said, "In times of war we bring peace."
Before the ISIS attacked the town, Qaraqosh had an estimated 50,000 Christians that resided in the place. It was the largest Christian town in the nation.
However, the continuous war in the nearby city of Mosul and the attack of the militants forced the Christians in Qaraqosh to leave as they were given an ultimatum by ISIS in 2014. Either they convert to Islam or pay special taxes or they will be killed.
Iraqi forces were successful in driving out the militant group from the town in October but remains a ghost town as Christians remain fearful of returning.