Christians in Iraq Celebrate in Burnt Churches
On Palm Sunday, churches in the Middle East traditionally go out on the streets, they walk after mass in a public procession through the streets. In Iraq, hundreds of Christians marched through the streets of Karamles and Qaraqosh. Both of these towns were under Islamic State rule for over two years, and were liberated in October 2016.
Some carried big banners saying, “Blessed is he who is coming in the name of the Lord, hallelujah,” or “Hosanna for the Son of David.”
Others walked with leaves of palm trees, like on that day about 2,000 years ago when Jesus entered Jerusalem and people sang Hosanna. For one day, the inhabitants of these mainly Christian towns were back in their place to celebrate Palm Sunday.
Christians went to church services, held in the burnt and damaged churches. "Thank God, we are returning to our towns and churches after two years," one of the priests told us.
Before Islamic State forced Christians to flee, Qaraqosh was the biggest Christian town in Iraq.
In one night in 2014, 50,000 Christians were of forced to flee Qaraqosh and towns on the Nineveh Plain. Since then, most have been living in Erbil, a Kurdish city to the east of the Nineveh Plain.
Work was done to clean this burn-out church in Karamles, ready for the Palm Sunday service.
“Last week we also did some repairs in the church. For the first time we were able to use the house next to the church, the house that will be used as Center of Encouragement and Support,” the local priest, Father Thabet, says. “We used a small generator to have electricity.”
Around 500 church members arrived in Karamles in cars and busses for the celebration, “I am very happy we could do so. After mass we had a meal on the hill of Saint Barbara. Seeing all the people made me cry. I was very happy to return and celebrate mass, this was very significant for me and for many people from Karamles.”
Father Thabet is planning to move a generator to Karamles after Easter. This will make electricity available for people who want to start returning home. As they restore their homes and rebuild their lives, they will be able to stay in a support centre through the church, the Center of Encouragement and Support.
“But this week we will have our preparations for the celebration of Easter,” Father Thabet says. “We will have that celebration in Ankawa, Erbil. We already had the celebration at Palm Sunday and it takes much planning to organise visits to our village.”
“This year we are waiting to return to our place and we hope we can celebrate the full Easter next year in Karamles.”
Christians also celebrated Palm Sunday in other liberated villages and towns on the Nineveh Plain. It was the first celebration since the towns were re-taken from Islamic State.
Open Doors is committed to supporting the church in Iraq. Through local partners, we are helping displaced Christians with emergency relief, and are investing in people through micro loans and job creation. We have been working in the Middle East for almost 30 years and, God willing, many more.