For the first time since 2014, hundreds of Iraqi Christians gathered on Sunday in a church damaged by Islamic State north of Mosul, celebrating Easter there.
“God willing, the celebration of the resurrection of Christ will also mark the return and rising-up of the Christians in Iraq,” said Kyriacos Isho, 75, who was accompanied by his 12 children and grandchildren at Mar Gewargis (St George) Chaldean Catholic church in Tel Esqof.
Tel Esqof, or Bishop’s Hill in Arabic, did not sustain the same amount of damage as other Christian towns overrun by the militants three years ago in the plain of Nineveh.
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters dislodged the hardline Sunni militants from Tel Esqof just a week after it had fallen, in August 2014. On Sunday, they stood guard around the church.
The militants had smashed the church’s windows, though a new cross has now been put up in place of the one the militants took down.
A fresh breeze on Sunday cooled the white chapel as the choir sang hymns in Chaldean, a language close to the Amaraic spoken by Jesus.
The mass ended with a festive distribution of soft drinks and colored eggs in the inner courtyard by a French group, SOS Chretiens d’Orient.
Islamic State targeted all non-Sunni Muslims living under its rule, and inflicted harsh punishment on Sunnis who refused to abide by its extreme interpretation of Islam.
The region’s Christians were given an ultimatum: pay a tax, convert to Islam, or die by the sword. Most of them fled to the autonomous Kurdish region, across the Zab river to the east.