Pope to visit Iraq church damaged by ISIS terrorists
he scenes are seared in the memory of the Rev. Ammar Altony Yako: A church that for decades has been the pride of the town of Qaraqosh, a center for Christian life in Iraq, stood badly scarred.
Publish date : 3/7/2021
Publish Time : 09:23:00

Yako saw it in 2016 when Qaraqosh was liberated from more than two years of Islamic State group rule. Scrawled on a wall was the proclamation, the “Islamic State will remain.” Strewn amid the rubble in a courtyard were bullet-riddled mannequins and other telltale signs of a militants’ makeshift firing range for target practice.

On Sunday, a new scene will play out for the world to watch at the Church of the Immaculate Conception and new memories will be created. Where the extremists once damaged, Pope Francis will now pray.

“I never could have imagined that his holiness, the pope, would visit this church, not even in my dreams,” said Yako, who has been overseeing reconstruction at the church. “It’s a very, very unexpected event and a very happy one.”

It is also one rich in symbolism. Coming amid a pandemic and security challenges, the pope’s historic trip is taking him to Christian communities, like Yako’s, ravaged by the ISIS onslaught in 2014. Christians in the area were forced to escape ancestral towns and villages as the militants swept through northern Iraq. Many have since scattered abroad, their exodus fueling existential anxieties about Iraq’s already dwindling Christian population.

Many hope the pope’s trip can focus attention on their struggles and send a message of encouragement, but they also point to security, economic and social challenges deterring many Christians from returning.

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