|Shops are reopening in Qaraqosh, with help of the church. PHOTO JUDIT NEURINK|
“I was the first to repair my house and move back here,” said Archbishop Yohanna Petros Mouche of the Syriac Catholic Church in Qaraqosh. He gestured toward his home in the Christian town on the Ninevah Plains where fresh paint and new religious images now cover the scars of two years under the Islamic State. “We prepared this home and started celebrating religious ceremonies again to encourage people to return with their families. And when they saw it, they came too.”
That about 5,000 families, some 22,000 souls, have returned is mostly due to the efforts of the bishop and his church. A church reconstruction commission helps civilians repair houses that were looted and damaged and has been instrumental in reopening shops. The bishop oversees the process personally. Houses have priority over churches, he said. “We want to have civilians here who can bear witness to the development. And I try to create jobs and offer opportunities for recreation too. Opening parks is important for the younger generation.”
The bishop was opening a small shopping mall the day of his interview with Al-Monitor, which will sell men’s wear, run by local businessman Mohanad Yousef. The center of Qaraqosh is alive again, with shops selling fruit and fresh vegetables, clothes, toys and even bicycles next to teahouses and counters selling traditional bread. On Palm Sunday, thousands gathered in the city center for the first open-air ceremony in three years.