Restoration of Mosul Churches Brings Hope to Christian Community |

MOSUL – Cymbals, prayers and the Chaldean Catholic liturgy echoed Friday in St. George’s Monastery in Mosul, where Iraqi worshipers marked the restoration of two churches destroyed by the jihadists in their former stronghold.

Dozens of people gathered in one of the monastery’s churches that were rebuilt in stone six years after their destruction by the Islamic State (IS) group, in a town home to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world.

This is the latest sign of a slow return to normalcy in Iraq’s second city.

Mosul has remained in ruins after three years of jihadist occupation that ended in 2017 when an Iraqi force backed by US-led coalition airstrikes drove them out.

“We have old memories in this monastery,” said Maan Bassem Ajjaj, 53, an official who settled in Erbil, capital of the neighboring autonomous region of Kurdistan, to escape the jihadists.

“My son and daughter were baptized here,” he said. “Every Friday Christian families from Mosul came here.

The US State Department funded the project, which also received support from a Christian nongovernmental group, L’Oeuvre d’Orient, according to Samer Yohanna, a superior of the Antonian Order of Chaldean monks.

He said the jihadists destroyed 70% of the monastery the year after occupying Mosul in 2014 and declared the creation of an Islamic “caliphate”.

ISIS’s attack forced hundreds of thousands of Christians in the Nineveh province surrounding Mosul to flee.

Iraq’s Christian population has fallen to less than 400,000 from around 1.5 million before the 2003 US invasion that overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein.

During a visit to Iraq in March, Pope Francis prayed outside another crumbling church, one of at least 14 destroyed by ISIS in Nineveh.

Although the churches have been repaired, other parts of the centuries-old monastery still need to be restored.

“You can see walls that are still standing but are weak and need to be strengthened,” Yohanna said.

Chaldean Bishop Thabet Habib of the Al-Qosh Diocese said more work was needed so that the entire monastery “can regain its splendor.”

Last month, the Muslim community in Mosul celebrated Prophet Muhammad’s birthday in a ceremony at the historic Al-Nuri Mosque, which was also badly damaged by ISIS but is also undergoing restoration.

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