MOSUL, Iraq — Following the liberation of Mosul, Iraq, from the hands of the Islamic State, Christians are cautiously returning to the city. And as they return, so does the Mass.
Father Luis Montes, a priest of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, celebrated Mass earlier this month at St. George Monastery. The priest traveled to Mosul to record part of a documentary entitled Guardianes de la Fe (Guardians of the Faith), which seeks to show the reality of life for Christians in Iraq and Syria.
In a video posted on the Amigos de Irak (“Friends of Iraq”) Facebook page, Father Montes said that the Mass was celebrated Aug. 9 — a month after Mosul’s liberation — on the feast day of St. Edith Stein (Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), who died a martyr in a Nazi concentration camp.
The priest said it was “a great gift of God” to be able to celebrate the feast day of a martyr in the monastery, which “surely gave many martyrs to the Church.”
Pointing to the damage to the monastery entrance, he said that he believes the lower level may have been “used as a prison at some time, (as) the Christians left their names there written on the walls as a witness.”
Located in the eastern part of the city, the monastery was badly damaged by ISIS militants.
“Rubble everywhere, the stone facing on walls knocked off, all the religious statues destroyed,” Father Montes said. “The grotto of the Virgin Mary destroyed. … Crosses set into the walls were chopped off with sledgehammers so no trace would remain of anything that is Christian, of anything that is Jesus Christ.”
In the chapel where they celebrated Mass, the altar was stripped of its marble adornments, and the walls had been damaged.
The experience of celebrating the Eucharist amidst so much devastation was awe-inspiring, Father Montes said.
“In this place, which has been attacked for being Christian, the contemplation of the mystery of the cross, which is renewed in Holy Mass, had so much power,” he reflected.
“Some priests later told the young people that accompanied me that they believed that this was the first Mass” celebrated within the city of Mosul, which was among the areas hardest hit by ISIS, in the last three years, he added. “It’s really a gift from God.”
The priest said that he offered the Mass for Europe, “which suffers from having turned away from Our Lord, God, so that the blood of the martyrs here in the Middle East may stir Europe, touch it, so that it awakens.”
The sight of so much desecration is painful, Father Montes acknowledged, and it is even more painful to think of the hatred for Christ that motivated the attacks.
But at the same time, he said, “there is such a beautiful satisfaction in knowing that one is serving a persecuted people.”