First mass in a Mosul church that had been ransacked by the Islamic State

Worshipers celebrated a mass on Saturday in the Mar Touma church in Mosul, the first since the restoration of this place of worship ransacked by the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) and damaged by fighting in this city in northern Iraq. .

The Syriac Catholic church of Mar Touma, dating from the XNUMXth century, had welcomed with great fanfare in September a new bell of 285 kilos, melted in Lebanon and transported by plane thanks to donations from a French NGO, Fraternité en Irak, which participated in the financing of the restoration work.

Accompanied by the organ, the faithful sang liturgical songs in the packed church, according to an AFP correspondent on the spot.

A case of ocher and gray marble, the nave has regained its former splendor, with its colonnades and chiselled arches, its restored altars. The round dormers have new stained glass.

When the bell rings, the dinghies sound.

"It's the most beautiful church in Iraq," laughs Father Pios Affas, 82, welcoming the work that has made it possible to "restore the church as it was at the time of its builders, 160 years ago. years ".

In the courtyard, the upper floors of the outbuildings await renovations, showing gutted windows.

Altars, representations of the cross and other Christian symbols in the church had been ransacked by IS, just as a shell fire had passed through one of the vaults.

"We had to remove the marble burnt during an auto-da-fé, sand it and renovate it, dig the ground to consolidate the concrete... and put back the cleaned marble, completed with pieces of new marble", according to Fraternité en Irak.

Once a hotbed of Christianity, Mosul and the northern Nineveh plain have struggled to regain some semblance of normality since the jihadists were defeated in 2017 by the Iraqi army and a US-led international coalition.

Monasteries and churches are being restored in Mosul, where reconstruction is slow. The tens of thousands of Christians who fled the arrival of the jihadists in 2014 have still not returned.

Pope Francis visited Nineveh during his historic trip to Iraq in 2021.

"The reconstruction encourages the return of Christians, we are tired of our exile," said Sana Abdelkarim, who attended the mass.

This 50-year-old civil servant, originally from Mosul, has been living in Dohuk, further north, since her family fled the arrival of jihadists in 2014.

“This is our region, that of our parents and grandparents, we want to stay and live here. »

The editorial staff (with AFP)

Image credit: ZAID AL-OBEIDI / AFP

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