Source: Catholic News Agency
On 10.26.16, by Mary Rezac+
On 10.26.16, by Mary Rezac+
|Mass at a refugee camp in Baghdad. Thousands of Iraqi Christians have been killed or forced to flee their homes after the rise of the Islamic State. Credit: Amigos de Irak via Facebook.|
The cross of Jesus is being lifted once more over many parts of Iraq, where for years Islamic State terrorists left a path of death and destruction.
As a military campaign to rid the Mosul area of the Islamic state rages on, videos are surfacing of “the people of the cross” reclaiming their homes by raising makeshift wooden crosses over the churches and towns they were once forced to flee out of fear for their lives.
The “people of the cross” was the term for Christians used by Islamic terrorists when they beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians in February 2015.
According to many reports, the Islamic State has a special hate for the symbol of the cross, which many say points to the religious motivations of their actions. According to a journalist for Ankawa news agency, within two weeks of seizing Mosul, the Islamic State terrorists threw down all the crosses from domes of churches in the city. They also raided the houses of Christian living in Mosul in order to destroy all the crosses and icons.
The breaking of the cross is symbolic of what many Muslims believe will happen at the end times. Muhammad prophesied that when Isa (the Muslim Jesus) returns, he will “fight the people for the cause of Islam. He will break the cross, kill the swine and abolish jizya” and establish the rule of Allah throughout the world.
But after years of broken crosses throughout Christian towns near Mosul, Iraq, the symbol of Jesus’ triumph over death is returning.
Yesterday, “This is Christian Iraq” Facebook page posted a video of two priests and members of the Iraq military elevating a cross made of two wooden poles and copper wiring on top of Al-Tahira Church in Qaraqosh, Iraq’s largest Christian town.
Al-Tahira Church (The Church of the Immaculate Conception) is a Chaldean Catholic Church dating back to the 7th century. In 2014, some sources reported that ISIS terrorists destroyed a Virgin Mary statue outside this Church. Since then, most of the other icons and sacramentals inside the church have been destroyed, the interior of the Church burned, the windows smashed.
But now, there is hope again that the 50,000 some Christians who were forced to leave Qaraqosh may return.
“I’m very happy now that we are able to return to our church,” Father Amar, one of the priests who erected the new cross, told The Daily Beast.
But hope mingles with sorrow at the ruin of so many churches and Christian symbols.
“Its very hard for us to see our town like this. Everything is damaged. Do you see that the bell of the church is missing? They destroyed it. Why? I don’t know,” he said.
A second video, from France 24, shows the liberation of Bartella, a Christian village close to Mosul. In an emotional and symbolic gesture of their return, they too made a makeshift cross of wooden beams and raised it on top of their church.
On the church’s walls below, Islamic State graffiti read: “Our God is higher than the cross.”
A captain with the Iraqi army told International Business Times that the fight to take back Bartella was more difficult than some of the other fights to free nearby towns, perhaps because of the town’s religious significance.
A few days ago, church bells rang out in the town for the first time in two years since the Islamic State takeover. [Read: Church bells ring for first time in 2 years after Iraqi forces liberate Christian town of Bartella en route to Mosul http://abcnews.ws/2eloz3Tl]
Christian persecution has been happening in Iraq since the spread of Islamic terror and the U.S. invasion in 2003, and picked up in intensity with the rise of the Islamic State in 2014. Hundreds of thousands of Christians have been killed or forced to flee their homes, and the population of Christians – which was about 1.5 million in 2003 – is about a third of what it used to be, with approximately 500,000 Christians remaining.
And while the battle for Mosul has been liberating Christian towns, it has not been without cost.
The United Nations warned that ISIS is using civilians as human shields in the fight for Mosul, estimating that the militants have so far taken roughly 550 families from smaller towns close to Mosul in an effort to prevent them from leaving the area.
According to CNN, some 285 men and boys have already been used by ISIS as human shields in recent days, and their bodies dumped in a mass grave.
In a statement earlier this week, Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, stressed that liberating Mosul and the Nineveh plain are not enough. In addition, aid must be offered to ensure the survival of groups that ISIS had been trying to exterminate.
The Knights of Columbus have been heavily involved in supporting persecuted Christians in the Middle East. Earlier this year the Catholic fraternal group successfully advocated for the State Department to recognize the genocide of religious minorities at the hands of ISIS.
In 2014, the Knights established the Christian Refugee Relief Fund, which has raised $10.5 million to provide food, clothing, shelter, education, and medical care to persecuted Christians in the Middle East. They have also encouraged prayer for those facing persecution.
“Celebrations over the ongoing liberation of the historically Christian towns of the Nineveh, should not obscure the fact those minority groups who lived there for generations are now displaced and in danger of disappearing,” Anderson said in his statement.
Donations can be made to help the victims of Christian genocide in the Middle East at: http://www.kofc.org/en/charities/christian-relief/