Iraqi Christians Return Home to Find Islamic State Beheaded Virgin Mary

A statue of Virgin Mary, with the head decapitated, remains at the St. Addai church which was damaged by Islamic State fighters during their occupation of Keramlis village, less than 18 miles (29 kilometers) southeast of Mosul, Iraq, Sunday Nov. 13, 2016. There were gasps, and then tears, at the …
AP Photo/Hussein Malla

The Associated Press on Sunday chronicled a sad homecoming for the Christians of Keramlis, a town on the Nineveh Plains of northern Iraq, overrun by ISIS in August 2014.

There were “gasps followed by tears” as the parishioners returned to their church, three weeks after the Iraqi military liberated it, to find the statue of the Virgin Mary decapitated, a confessional turned into a closet, a tomb desecrated, and prayer benches burned.

“As the Rev. Thabet Habib recited prayers at the St. Addai church, the sound of broken glass crunched beneath worshippers’ feet,” the AP wrote.

Residents talked about how much it meant to hear the church bell tolling again but remained largely pessimistic about life returning to normal, in part because a Christian exodus from Iraq was already in progress before the Islamic State reared its ugly head. One Christian interviewed by the AP said he has been displaced five times now and believes “there is no future for Christians or minorities in the Middle East.”

The Assyrian Christian community has expressed confidence that they will return to their ancestral homes, once the anti-Islamic State coalition secures the area around Mosul. However, even the generally optimistic Archbishop Bashar Warda admitted Mosul itself was “a difficult case” after its time as the Islamic State’s capital in Iraq.

“Most churches are burnt, but some [remain] in good condition,” he said. “Most churches have had insults and graffiti written on the walls.”