A statue of Our Lady placed on top of a Qaraqosh church destroyed by the Islamic State

A local Christian sculptor carved the work of art. The church, the biggest in the Nineveh Plain, was devastated, bemoans a local Chaldean priest. Evangelisation in this land “is also done with art.” As reconstruction continues, economic hardships and inflation scare more than COVID-19.

Qaraqosh (AsiaNews) – This morning Christians in Qaraqosh, the most important Christian town in the Nineveh Plain (northern Iraq), celebrated the placing of a statue of Our Lady on top of the bell tower of the Syrian Catholic Church of the Virgin Mary.

This place of worship is dear to local Christians. It was set on fire by the Islamic State group during their occupation, which started in August 2014, destroying all the Christian symbols it contained. But thanks to the efforts and commitment of the entire local community, the place of worship was rebuilt over the past few years.

“The bell tower of this church, the largest in the Nineveh Plain, was razed to the ground at the time of the liberation, with a missile or a bomb, we do not know exactly,” said Fr Paul Thabit Mekko, head of the local community, speaking to AsiaNews from Karamles, also in the Nineveh plain.

“Only a part of the old bell tower remained,” he explained. “We decided to place a statue of Our Lady on top of it, as we did two years ago in Karamles.”

The church in the town of Qaraqosh, a name used under the Ottoman Empire which Christians prefer to call by its Aramaic name, Bakhdida, is dedicated “to the Immaculate Conception, to the purest,” and for this reason “we decided to also put a statue when we started reconstruction.”

“A local Christian artist, a sculptor called Thabit Michael, did the work. He also made the statue of Our Lady for the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Baghdad,” scene of a massacre by al-Qaeda in 2010.

In the summer of 2014, the Islamic State group (then called ISIS) invaded Qaraqosh, destroying and devastating homes, churches, the library and other places of interest in the city.

Tens of thousands of people fled in a hurry, abandoning the most important Christian town in the Nineveh Plain. The town was freed from the jihadist yoke two years later, in 2016, but signs of looting and devastation where everywhere when people began returning.

Many have not yet returned. The “Caliphate” burnt and plundered most of the town’s cultural and literary heritage; but thanks to Christian charities and other organisations, including the Syrian-Catholic Church, the library reopened last September, and in a short time, became a reference point for the area.

While local Christians wait for the announced papal visit amidst doubts and uncertainties, Fr Paul explains that “Evangelisation in our land is also done with art which is fundamental to maintaining one’s identity.”

“Thabit Michael is not only a true artist, but also a Christian devoted to his land, who wants to revive it also through his works. He is also responsible for the statue of Our Lady in the oldest and most important church in Mosul, which we all hope to rebuild after it was devastated by the Islamic State.”

Fr Paul notes that the situation in the former stronghold of the Caliphate and in the Nineveh Plain is “currently calm. Some activities have been reported but nothing to worry about”.

Even the pandemic has not disrupted local life. Karamles has not reported any case in two months. In the region, people are more concerned about the economic crisis and the difficulties associate with reconstruction.

“For us, the main issue is inflation, rising prices, and the exchange rate between the dollar and our currency. All this makes the task of rebuilding that much more difficult and represents a further incentive for young people to flee, as they see no new prospects.”