The sound of church bells on a Sunday morning might be taken for granted in towns across America. But it’s a sound that hasn’t been heard for two and a half years in most places in northern Iraq.
Until now. This video was taken in Bartella, a town on the Nineveh Plain that was liberated from the control of the Islamic State group on Friday.
“A cautious calm returned to this historic Christian area following its recapture from Islamic State a day earlier as Iraqi forces push west towards Mosul, the jihadists’ last major stronghold in the country,” Reuters news service reported. “Bartella, once home to thousands of Assyrian Christians, emptied in August 2014 when Islamic State seized control as part of a lightning blitz across large swathes of Iraq and neighboring Syria.”
Christian residents fled to the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan when ISIS swooped in and offered an ultimatum: convert Islam, accept life as a third-class citizen, including being subject to a heavy tax or prepare to be executed.
“In Bartella, the church is not destroyed but harmed by fire inside,” reported an Assyrian priest, Father Emanuel Youkhana, head of the Christian Aid Program in Northern Iraq. “It was an impressive and touching scene when the Iraqi TV of Sumaria aired live the bells of the church ringing as Iraqi soldiers rang the bells.”
Coalition forces continue to liberate towns on the Nineveh Plain, many of them historic homes to Christians through the centuries, as the operation to retake the city of Mosul from the Islamic State enters its second week.
However, a difficult road lies ahead. CNN reported Sunday that as forces closed in on Mosul, ISIS reportedly shot upwards of 300 men and boys it had been using as human shields there.
In his weekly Angelus address at the Vatican, Pope Francis prayed for the safety of citizens trapped inside the embattled city of Mosul.
“I was saddened to hear news of the killing – in cold blood – of many sons and daughters of that beloved land,” the Pope said, “including many children: this cruelty makes us weep, leaving us without words.”