Church ransacked by Islamic State holds service for first time in 8 years

One of the April 2022 Easter services at the church.(Photo: Aid to the Church in Need)

Easter was extra special for a Christian community in Iraq this Easter as it opened its doors for the first time since it was desecrated by Islamic State militants eight years ago.

The Chaldean Catholic Church of St Kyriakos, Batnaya, was attacked by ISIS in 2014. Militants beheaded statues, smashed the altar and used holy images as targets.

In the nearby Immaculate Conception Chapel, activists scrawled anti-Christian graffiti on the walls.

An example read, “O, you [expletive] slaves of the Cross, we will kill you all… You filthy people don’t belong here.”

According to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which supports the community, the church was virtually “razed” when ISIS was driven out of town.

Batnaya was the most severely damaged of the dozen Christian towns and villages in the Nineveh Plains targeted by ISIS.

After the defeat of ISIS, ACN launched a major restoration and reconstruction program in Batnaya to help people return.

St Kyriakos Church in Batnaya, in December 2016, shortly after the defeat of the Islamic State.(Photo: Aid to the Church in Need)

The Church and Chapel of the Immaculate Conception received €200,000 for their restoration.

Work is still ongoing but was temporarily halted during Holy Week to allow Easter services to be held – the first services to be held in the church since August 2014.

More than 500 people attended the Saturday Easter Vigil celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Parish Deacon Reverend 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 that there were people in the aisles.”

It is hoped that the restoration work on the church will be completed by July.

In addition to the church, ACN is helping to restore two kindergartens, St Oraha’s Dominican convent, parish hall, library and priest’s house.

Jerry B. Hatch