Church of Qaraqosh: Built by locals, burnt by ISIS, the Pontiff presents peace prayer

Iraqi security forced deployed around al-Tahira al-Kubra Church in Mosul ahead of Pope Francis visit on March 7th, 2021. Photo by Popular Mobilization Forces PMF media

Church of the Immaculate Conception (Al-Tahir al-Kubra) in Qaraqosh, Iraq was built by donations, charities and volunteer work. The church in Qaraqosh, located 32 km southeast of the city of Mosul and 60 km west of Erbil, stranded open for 50 years up to ISIS reign in 2014. The extremist militants set fire to it but it was rebuilt by the locals and Pope Francis to lead a peace prayer in the third day of the ever-first Papal trip to Iraq.

On Sunday morning March 8th, Pope Francis will depart Baghdad for Erbil. On arrival at the airport, he will be welcomed by religious and civil authorities from the region of Iraqi Kurdistan before continuing his journey by helicopter to Mosul. While there, he will recite a prayer of sufferage for the victims of war at Hosh al-Bieaa (Church Square).

The Pope will again take a helicopter to Qaraqosh (Bakhdida), center of al-Hamdaniyah district, ancient home of Christian locals, where he will visit the Qaraqosh community at the Church of the Immaculate Conception.

Pope Francis will open the closed doors of the church tidied and ornamented for his apostolic long-awaited visit.

The foundation stone of Al-Tahir al-Kubra church of Qaraqosh was laid in 1932 and all materials were provided by charity and donation of the locals and parishioners whom took 15 years to build it. In 1947 it has opened its doors for worshippers, said Ammar Yako, supervisor of the church.

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Renovation of Church of the Immaculate Conception (Al-Tahir al-Kubra) in Qaraqosh, Iraq in 2019. Photo by Church media.

Parishioners have been busy cleaning and painting the interior of the Church of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Syriac Catholic congregation in the world, transforming the blackened interior to its original radiance for the pope’s visit. The church has seating for 4,000 people.

Qaraqosh is covered with papal flags and banners in preparation for the pope’s March 7 visit, part of his March 5-8 visit to Iraq.

“Daesh militants when took over Mosul in 2014, set fire to the church, broken all the statues, torn all the books and turned the backyard into battle field. They left a massive disaster,” Yako said.

The church is built over a 3,000 square meter land, designed by two Christian engineers from Mosul in a modern style. One of its pillars’ is 15m high and it embraces a big hall and several smaller rooms.

“It was rebuilt by donations and charity of locals and Christian organizations and it is ready to welcoe the Pope,” he added.

The renovation has commenced in 2019 and the renovation has come to end. The prayer to be led by Pope is the first festival post renovation.

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The Church of the Immaculate Conception renovated to welcome Pope Franics on March 7th. Photo by Church media.

“Daesh has made a big damage to the town. Over 2,000 houses were demolished and set fire to all the nine churches in Qaraqosh in particular the church of Immaculate,” said Salah Sarkis, a resident of Qaraqosh and primary school principal.

Five out of the nine churches were renovated, and so far 35% of the 20,000 has not made it home because they could not rebuild their houses, Sarkis added.

The Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception has become a symbol of the Christians in Iraq and motive for Pope to visit the church and meet the local community.

“People will take the streets toward the church to welcome Pope then he will be briefed by the church staff about Qaraqosh and the devastation Daesh cause. Pope will deliver a speech and practice prayer of peace,” he added.

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