Christians, come back: Muslim youths rebuild a church outraged by the Islamic State | Global World Blog

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The image they project is powerful: young Muslims helping to remove the rubble and clean a church desecrated by the Islamic State. They are the volunteers of Sawaed al Museliya, a group of activists from Mosul trying to erase the tracks of the jihadists over the city, including places of worship of those who do not profess their faith. The message of inclusion seeks to encourage the return of Christians who, like other religious minorities, fled when those barbarians seized the northern Iraqi capital in 2014.

"We want to say (to Christians): come back, Mosul is not complete without you," declared Mohammed Essam, one of the group's co-founders. AsiaNews, the official news agency of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, which revealed its work in the church of Santo Tomás (Catholic of the Syrian rite) earlier this month.

Since the liberation of the city, Sawaed al Museliya (a name that could be translated as "Helpers of Mosul") facilitates community services, including emergency food aid, and fundraising for the reconstruction of the houses of the most disadvantaged. The fact that they have included several Christian temples among the historic buildings they restore aims to heal the wounds opened by fans of the self-styled Islamic State.

The jihadists settled in the third city of Iraq a a regime of terror that left thousands dead and forced two-thirds of its 1.8 million inhabitants to flee their homes. Minorities (Christian, Yazidi, Mandaean, or Shiite Muslims) were disproportionately affected. Many found refuge in the neighboring autonomous region of Kurdistan. In their attempt to erase the multicultural history of the area, fans vandalized numerous places of worship, including the shrine of the prophet Jonah, as well as Roman and Assyrian archaeological sites. In 2016, an ominous video went around the world showing statues and bas-reliefs being reduced to rubble in Nineveh and at the Mosul Museum.

Santo Tomás, dating from the mid-nineteenth century, was looted in the summer of 2014, at the beginning of the regime that jihadists they qualified as "caliphate". By the time the Iraqi Army, aided by an international coalition led by the United States, managed to drive them out of Mosul three and a half years later, the building threatened to collapse. The volunteers who strive to erase the graffiti that proclaim "land of the caliphate" hope it will become a symbol of the rebirth of the city and encourage the return of those who fled confessional violence.

So far, barely 50 Christian families have returned to Mosul, still a far cry from the 45,000 believers of that religion who lived in the city until the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

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