The Christians of Mosul held their first mass in four years in the Mar Toma (Apostle Thomas) Church at the heart of the Old City.
For the first time in four years, the Mar Toma Church at the heart of Mosul’s Old City echoed not with the sounds of battles and gunfire but with hymns and prayers that signal the return of the city’s Christians who were expelled by the ISIS militants when they took over the city.
The Church, which is dedicated to the Apostle of the East, Thomas, was one of the many churches in the city that was taken over and shut down by ISIS militants since 2014. Although the group claimed to permit Christians to continue their lives and worship so long as they paid the jizya tax, in reality the group shut down, converted or desecrated the churches across the city.
While many other churches in Mosul were restored since the liberation from Mosul, the Mar Toma Church remained abandoned due to the general state of destruction in the Old City and lingering security concerns. Recently, however, 20 Christian families have chosen to return to their homes in the Old City, defying many security warnings to start rebuilding their community. The mass, therefore, is intended to signal not only the community’s revival in the Old City where ISIS militants once reigned supreme, but it is also meant to signal other displaced Christians of Mosul and, indeed, the world to return.
The restoration of the Mar Toma Church was assisted by local Muslims in expression of solidarity and communal reconciliation. This is the latest such event in which Christians and Muslims attended cross-confessional events and aided each-others’ efforts to rebuild, highlighting that beyond their individual faiths, they are all Iraqis and all victims of the militants.
The optimism here is tempered by some of the very real difficulties the community continues to face. The scale of destruction in the Old City is unmatched and reconstruction is likely to be a challenging prospect. Furthermore, many Christians are still concerned of being targeted by ISIS cells. These fears have increased following news of militant attacks of security forces in the neighbouring provinces.
Despite these fears, however, the community here is determined to protect its heritage and the country in which they have their roots.