QARAQOSH, Iraq -- "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."
Though Qaraqosh was liberated 18 months ago, civilians only started returning after the schools reopened in October. Mouche is working to attract as many Christians as possible to bring the town back to life. But it is also a fight against rumors. "When people say it is dangerous, I reply that there are many restaurants and shops, and people are enjoying life again," he said.
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."
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