In an ancient Iraqi Christian town recently liberated from the Islamic State (IS) terror group, Christmas was celebrated for the first time in over two years .
It was an emotional return for members of Bartella town’s displaced Christian community, who had been forced to flee when their hometown was overrun by the Islamist terror group,
Hundreds of Christians had made the pilgrimage in buses on a gray, rainy Christmas Eve. They came mostly from camps for the displaced that have been set up in the city of Irbil.
Bartella is just 20 km east of the IS stronghold of Mosul — where coalition forces still are battling thousands of militants.
As mass was celebrated on Saturday, dozens of Iraqi and US security forces were on standby to protect worshipers at the historic, battle-scarred Mart Shmony Church.
During the mass, the church’s priest delivered a defiant message,
“We are here to challenge the sons of darkness and this is why we held this mass here. IS are sons of darkness.
“This is a message to the entire world that we Christians … are the inherent component of this country and we are staying,” said Father Yaqub Saadi.
In another corner of the church, several US soldiers were celebrating Christmas. They held candles and prayed.
At the end of the service a new cross replaced the one destroyed by the IS.