Mosul, Iraq- For years, Mosul’s Christians haven’t been able to worship in their churches as their city was racked with insecurity and violence.
But earlier this week, they celebrated the Divine Liturgy in Deir Mar Mikhael (Monastery of Saint Michael) for the first time in more than 20 years.
The Sunday mass was held by Archbishop Najib Mikhael Moussa, head of the Chaldean diocese of Mosul and Aqra, who told Al Jazeera of his happiness with being able to do this after so long.
“We hope that we can continue our prayers in all the destroyed churches and monasteries that were destroyed and their believers displaced,” he said.
The residents of Mosul have lived in insecurity since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. In June 2014, the city was taken by the ISIL (ISIS) armed group, which held it till July 2017. But even after their city was liberated, the people of Mosul suffered scattered attacks that added to the feeling of being unsafe.
“After 2003, as Christians, we used to stay at home for long periods and deliberately not go to churches and monasteries because of the bad security conditions and threats to Christians,” Hamid Tuzi, 31, told Al Jazeera.
“Christians were frequently targeted, many people were threatened and emigrated, and many priests were killed.”
Archbishop Najib Mikhael Moussa told Al Jazeera: “Mar Mikhael [is known as] the angels’ companion due to his highness of virtue and lofty morals.”
When ISIL controlled Mosul, many churches and monasteries were destroyed and many are still damaged, despite it being six years since the city’s liberation.
Ezzat Sami, 69, moved away from Mosul in 2014 when it was taken by ISIL, taking up residence in Duhok in the Kurdish region of Iraq. But he comes back to visit Mosul a lot and told Al Jazeera he was “happy that we can come to mass again after a long time and remember the old days and remember our relatives who passed away or who left Iraq. I remembered my deceased father.”