MOSUL: People gather to inaugurate the new bell at Syriac Christian church of Mar Tuma in Iraq’s second city of Mosul. – AFP

MOSUL: A bell was inaugurated at a church in Mosul on Saturday to the cheers of Iraqi Christians, seven years after the Islamic State group overran the northern city. Dozens of faithful stood by as Father Pios Affas rang the newly installed bell for the first time at the Syriac Christian church of Mar Tuma, an AFP correspondent reported.

It drew applause and ululations from the crowd, who took photos on mobile phones, before prayers were held. “After seven years of silence, the bell of Mar Tuma rang for the first time on the right bank of Mosul,” Affas told them. IS swept into Mosul and proclaimed it their “capital” in 2014, in an onslaught that forced hundreds of thousands of Christians in the northern Nineveh province to flee, some to Iraq’s nearby Kurdistan region.

The Iraqi army drove out the jihadists three years later after months of grueling street fighting. The return of the Mosul church bell “heralds days of hope, and opens the way, God willing, for the return of Christians to their city,” said Affas. “This is a great day of joy, and I hope the joy will grow even more when not only all the churches and mosques in Mosul are rebuilt, but also the whole city, with its houses and historical sites,” he told AFP.

‘Back to life’
The bell weighing 285 kilograms was cast in Lebanon with donations from Fraternity in Iraq, a French NGO that helps religious minorities, and transported from Beirut to Mosul by plane and truck. The church of Mar Tuma, which dates back to the 19th century, was used by the jihadists as a prison or a court.

Restoration work is ongoing and its marble floor has been dismantled to be completely redone. Nidaa Abdel Ahad, one of the faithful attending the inauguration, said she had returned to her home town from Arbil so that she could see the church being “brought back to life”. “My joy is indescribable,” said the teacher in her forties. “It’s as if the heart of Christianity is beating again.” Faraj-Benoit Camurat, founder and head of Fraternity in Iraq, said that “all the representations of the cross, all the Christian representations, were destroyed,” including marble altars.

“We hope this bell will be the symbol of a kind of rebirth in Mosul,” he told AFP by telephone. Iraq’s Christian community, which numbered more than 1.5 million in 2003 before the US-led invasion, has shrunk to about 400,000, with many of them fleeing the recurrent violence that has ravaged the country. Camurat said around 50 Christian families had resettled in Mosul, while others travel there to work for the day. “The Christians could have left forever and abandoned Mosul,” but instead they being very active in the city, he said. – AFP