by WorldTribune Staff, December 24, 2017
Christians in Mosul and surrounding areas in northern Iraq are openly celebrating Christmas again after three years under the brutal rule of Islamic State (ISIS).
“The last Christmas mass here was in 2013. Now, the cross is lifted again over the Church of St. Paul,” Rev. Martin Banni, a Chaldean Catholic priest, told The Media Line.
“Celebrating Christmas here is a message, that despite all the threats, persecution, killing and what we faced in Iraq, we have hope that this country will change,” Banni said.
During its time in control in northern Iraq, ISIS routinely executed, abducted and banished Christians.
Chaldean, Assyrian and Syriac Christians who live in Nineveh Plain towns now kindle a “Christmas Flame” in the courtyards of their ancient churches – many of which had been desecrated and burned by ISIS.
“The young people spent the night decorating our town with lights just like we used to before ISIS came,” said Bernadette Al-Maslob, a 59-year-old resident of Karamlesh, 18 miles southeast of Mosul.
Secular and liberal Muslims also welcomed the return of Christmas, saying the tafkiri ideology of ISIS threatened their way of life just as it did for the region’s Christians.
“It was heartwarming and tear-shedding to enter my morning class and see the lighted Christmas tree after three dim years of ISIS rule,” said Ali Al-Baroodi, 29, a lecturer of English at Translation Department at Mosul University’s Faculty of Arts.
More Christians have returned to the more modern areas of east Mosul than to the historic neighborhoods such as Hosh Al-Bai’ah in the west where Ottoman villas, Assyrian and Chaldean Christian churches before the devastation wracked by ISIS, the Jerusalem Post noted in a Dec. 24 report.
“Yesterday, a group of Mosul youths have cleaned a church here so Christians can celebrate, attend the mass and ring the bells,” said Saad Ahmed, a 32-year-old Muslim resident of East Mosul. “Restaurants and shops are decorated with Christmas trees and Santa Claus images.”
The celebrations in Iraq come after a tense autumn when many Christians were forced to flee their homes in the Nineveh Plain.
In 2003, Iraq had about 1.5 million Christians. Christian aid and advocacy groups believe that number could now be as low as 300,000.