Easter was extra special for one Christian community in Iraq this Easter as it opened for services for the first time since being desecrated by ISIS militants eight years ago.
St Kyriakos’s Chaldean Catholic Church, Batnaya, was attacked by ISIS in 2014. Militants decapitated statues, smashed the altar and used sacred images as target practice.
In the nearby Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, militants scrawled anti-Christian graffiti on the walls.
One example read, “O, you [expletive] slaves of the Cross, we will kill you all… You dirty people, you do not belong here.”
According to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which has been supporting the community, the church was virtually “razed to the ground” by the time ISIS was pushed out of the town.
Batnaya was the most badly damaged among the dozen or so Christian towns and villages in the Nineveh Plains targeted by ISIS.
After the defeat of ISIS, ACN launched a major restoration and rebuilding programme in Batnaya to help people return.
The church and Chapel of the Immaculate Conception received €200,000 towards their restoration.
Work is still ongoing but was temporarily paused during Holy Week to allow Easter services to be held – the first services to take place in the church since August 2014.
Over 500 attended the Saturday Easter Vigil celebrating Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
Parish deacon Rev Basim told ACN: “We were all so happy to come to the church for the Easter services.
“We had worked so hard to get to this stage and the place was so full there were people in the aisles.”
It is hoped that restoration work at the church will be completed by July.
In addition to the church, ACN is helping to restore two kindergartens, St Oraha’s Dominican convent, the parish hall, library and priest’s house.