Cymbals, prayers and Chaldean Catholic liturgy resounded Friday in Mosul’s Saint George monastery, where Iraqi believers marked the restoration of two churches destroyed by ISIS in their former stronghold.
Dozens gathered in one of the monastery’s churches, which have been rebuilt in stone six years after ISIS pulverized them, in a city home to one of the world’s oldest Christian communities.
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It is the latest sign of a slow return to normalcy in Iraq’s second city.
Mosul was left in ruins after three years of ISIS occupation, which ended in 2017 when an Iraqi force backed by US-led coalition airstrikes pushed them out.
“We have ancient memories of this monastery,” said Maan Bassem Ajjaj, 53, an official who moved to Arbil, the capital of the adjacent Kurdistan Autonomous Region, to escape the terrorists.
“My son and daughter were baptized here,” he said. “Every Friday, Mosul’s Christian families came here.”
The U.S. State Department funded the project, which also had the support of a Christian non-governmental group, L’Oeuvre d’Orient, according to Samer Yohanna, a senior member of the Antonian order of Chaldean monks.
He told AFP that the terrorists destroyed 70 percent of the monastery the year after they occupied Mosul in 2014 and declared the creation of an Islamic “caliphate”.
The ISIS attack forced hundreds of thousands of Christians in Nineveh province around Mosul to flee.
Iraq’s Christian population has shrunk to less than 400,000 from about 1.5 million before the US-led invasion in 2003 that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.
During a visit to Iraq in March, Pope Francis prayed outside another destroyed church, one of at least 14 that ISIS destroyed in Nineveh.
Although the churches have been repaired, other parts of the centuries-old monastery still need restoration.
“You can see walls that are still standing but are weak and need to be reinforced,” Yohanna said.
The Chaldean bishop Thabet Habib of the Al-Qosh diocese said further work was needed so that the entire monastery “can regain its splendor.”
Last month, Mosul’s Muslim community celebrated with a ceremony to mark the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday in the historic Al-Nuri Mosque, which was also severely damaged by ISIS but is also being restored.
Read more: Former ISIS stronghold of Mosul in Iraq sees church receive new bell