Hundreds of Christians came together in Qaraqosh, Iraq to celebrate Palm Sunday for the first time in three years. They worshiped in a church that had been torched by Islamic State militants.
In October, Iraqi forces and the Christian militia pushed Islamic State militants out of Qaraqosh as part of a campaign to retake Mosul and the Nineveh Plain from the terror organization.
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Hundreds arrived in cars from Erbil, the main city in autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan where most Christian had fled when Islamic State gave them an ultimatum to pay special taxes, convert or die.
“We need reconciliation,” Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul Butrus Moshe told worshippers in the Immaculate Conception Church guarded by army jeeps.
Islamic State has targeted minority communities in both Iraq and Syria, setting churches on fire.
Scribbled “Islamic State” slogans could be still seen on the church’s walls while torn-up prayer books littered the floor.
Escorted by soldiers carrying rifles, the congregation then walked through Qaraqosh for Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week that culminates on Easter Sunday, holding up a banner saying “In times of war we bring peace.”
The number of Christians in Iraq drastically decreased after the US invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.