20 Dec 2016
Christians return to devastation in ancient Qaraqosh
Mariam gasped, reading graffiti on the church wall.
“It says that if they die destroying this church and this city, they will go straight to heaven.”
IS (Islamic State) set up firing ranges inside churches leaving these holy places gun-riddled.
As they toured the ruins, the sisters realised the bell that used to peal across the city is missing from the Church of Immaculate Conception, the largest Christian church in Iraq.
The church of St Behnam and St Sarah, a place of Christian pilgrimage for centuries, is also lost.
The tomb complex was built in the 4th Century AD by Assyrian King Senchareb in atonement for killing his son, Behnam, and daughter Sarah after they were converted to Christianity by St Matthew.
Many believe the shrine held the power of healing — Mariam and Randa wish it to be true.
Before their visit ended, Mariam wanted to fulfil her dream to sing in the Church of Immaculate Conception.
Standing in the burnt-out ruins of the immense church, Mariam did sing, but not with joy.
“My prayer is for you to give salvation for all those suffering,” her words echoed through the empty church, momentarily bringing it back to life
“Inspire me with the right words to bring comfort to my soul,” she sang.
For Mariam, the experience was bittersweet.
“This was my dream, but now I feel I can never come here again,” she said.
Thousands of Christians of Qaraqosh were lucky to escape with their lives. But they feel their soul has been torn from them.
To rebuild is a monumental task that few have the stomach for, Father Bashar says.