QARAQOSH, Iraq (CNS) — In a pastoral visit to Iraq, the Syriac Catholic patriarch celebrated Mass at the damaged Qaraqosh cathedral and praised Catholics for keeping the faith during more than three years of displacement.
“We will remain faithful to our Christian call, and we will remain lovers of our church despite all the horrors that have afflicted us,” Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan told the faithful in his homily during Palm Sunday Mass on 25 March at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh.
The interior of the cathedral is still blackened by damage from Islamic State militants and, the patriarch said, “this magnificent church attests to the criminal acts of those criminals and terrorists.”
Qaraqosh was considered the center of Christianity in Iraq. But in a single night during the summer of 2014, the town’s entire population of some 50,000 Christians was forcibly displaced by the Islamic State. In all, more than 100,000 Christians were evicted from the Ninevah Plain and Mosul that summer during Islamic State’s campaign of terror in Iraq, and those uprooted fled to the Kurdish region in northern Iraq.
“The forced displacement imposed on you is not easy,” the patriarch said in his homily, commending people for enduring in Iraq.
From the cathedral, Patriarch Ignatius Joseph led a Palm Sunday procession with bishops, priests and the apostolic nuncio through the streets of Qaraqosh, overflowing with believers, to the Church of St. John the Baptist. The patriarch said the crowded procession was proof that they had remained steadfast in the faith.
“This ‘dark tunnel’ is over, and we are at the end of it, looking forward to the glorious light and the light of the resurrection,” he said.
The patriarch told the faithful that “no matter how evil tried” to silence the beleaguered Christians, the Holy Spirit “is born again and works day after day more and more with his faithful children.”
“We are back, to say we exist, we are alive, we are staying and we will stay,” added the church leader, who spent the first part of Holy Week in Iraq before returning to Beirut.
Archbishop Alberto Ortega Martin, the Vatican ambassador to Iraq and Jordan, told the faithful: “All the universal church is with you today. … Thank you for your faith, and thank you for staying here in this land to continue to give this wonderful witness to your faith. May God bless you.”