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Iraqi priest rebuilds church in war-torn Mosul, hopes faithful follow

17 Dec 2018 – By Paul Jeffrey, Catholic News Service

MOSUL, Iraq (CNS) — Christians are cautiously returning to Mosul, the once-bustling Iraqi city that for three years was the capital of the caliphate established by the Islamic State group.

They just aren’t spending the night.

“There are almost no Christians in Mosul at night. During the day, there may by 60 or 70 Christians who come here to work, along with up to a thousand Christian students at the University of Mosul, but they go back to safer towns at night,” Father Amanuel Adel Kloo told Catholic News Service.

Father Kloo, a Syriac Catholic, was the last priest to leave Mosul after it was seized by Islamic State, also known as Daesh or IS, in 2014. He remained for a month after the takeover, but eventually left, fleeing to Erbil.

“At the beginning they tried to show people they were good, that they would simply control the area and things would be normal. But then they showed their true face,” he said.

In Erbil, he ran a camp for hundreds of displaced Christian families, but soon after Mosul was liberated by Iraqi forces in 2017, he began returning to the war-ravaged city.

In parts of the city, particularly on the wealthier east side of the Tigris River, recovery has been swift. Today, restaurants are packed and businesses flourish. But in the western portion of Mosul, particularly the old city, block after block of rubble hides decomposing bodies and unexploded ordnance, the legacy of months of heavy fighting and airstrikes as Islamic State fighters made their last stand, often using residents as human shields.

“They called it our liberation, but it was really our destruction,” said Hussain Ahmed, an Islamic teacher in the old city who has returned to live in the remnants of his heavily damaged house.

“It was sad to see the city destroyed,” said Father Kloo. “Two of my churches were hit by airstrikes, while two others were damaged. And what was left was looted. Daesh sold the windows and doors and light fixtures. Nothing was left but the walls. But I don’t feel hopeless. I have returned to Mosul to rebuild and carry the cross high.”

Many Christian homes in Mosul were occupied by IS fighters during the occupation, but Father Kloo said that, following the liberation of the city, other residents looted many of the houses.

“I started working with the police and army to solve this problem, and they put an end to it,” he said.

While in Mosul, at night the priest sleeps in the home of a Christian family that is too frightened to return, and by day he supervises the rebuilding of Our Lady of the Annunciation Church. Beside the church he plans to build a dormitory, so Christian university students will have a place to stay and no longer need to commute through a maze of checkpoints run by the police and army, as well as the dreaded Hashed al Shaabi militia posts where both Christians and members of the local Sunni majority are regularly harassed and threatened by Shiite militants.

“Many Christians come to Mosul every day but leave before night. My hope is that if there’s a priest and a church here, they will feel safe and begin to stay,” said Father Kloo.

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