“It has made us happy to have been able to keep our faith,” he explains.
This is the moment when a huge cross rises near Teleskuf, one of the Nineveh plain’s villages that has been invaded by ISIS jihadists for years.
Father Karam, who now studies in Italy with a scholarship, comes from this town. In fact, he was about to travel to Europe when ISIS arrived at the doors of his house.
“I presided at my last mass in my town to bid farewell to my parishioners. It was Sunday. Within a few hours, we knew they were very close to us and that we had to leave.”
All of his people were able to flee before the Jihadists arrived. Although they had to leave everything behind, there is something that they never lost along the way, which has nourished their hope while they have been separated from their homes.
“When I see my parishioners I see they are not so sad. They feel the pain of having lost everything, but they have saved their faith, which has given them happiness, hope, and trust in God, whose hands we have always felt.”
Father Karam says that the arrival of ISIS is only the latest episode amongst a long series of violent outbreaks against Christians. He himself was able to verify the amount of destruction caused by the terrorists in his hometown.
Life has since returned here, thanks to the 250 families who have gone back to their town after the liberation. With them, also returned the Christian ceremonies that are celebrated in the same language Jesus spoke.
“The extremists came to erase us from our land, to eliminate our existence. But we give thanks to God, because we have been able to escape alive, to flee, by keeping our faith.”
Little by little, the Nineveh Plain is being liberated by Iraqi and Kurdish forces. However, the great question for Christians is not just whether they will be able to return to their homes, but also how life will be with their Muslim neighbors.
“We have to forgive them, but we cannot forget that they, too, must take a step forward.” “We consider that they have destroyed our confidence, because it was our neighbors who were the first to betray us. They came to steal our houses, and were the ones that guided ISIS to us. It is difficult for us to live again as we used to, but we have to work to get it because we are Christians. We have to rebuild this trust even though it is very, very difficult.”
That will be one of the main challenges of post-ISIS Iraq. Another will be to protect religious minorities, so that they may never again be victims of a genocide like this.