Pope Francis blesses Marian statue desecrated by Islamic State

Pope Francis incenses a once-desecrated statue of the Virgin Mary from Karemlesh during his Mass in Erbil, Iraq, March 7, 2021. Credit: Vatican Media.

Erbil, Iraq, Mar 8, 2021 / 01:37 pm (CNA).- A statue of the Virgin Mary that had been desecrated by the Islamic State was present at Pope Francis’ Mass in Erbil on Sunday.

The statue was decapitated, and its hands cut off, in Karemlesh, a largely Christian town 18 miles east of Mosul, during the Islamic State’s occupation of the villages in the Nineveh Plains from 2014 to 2017. It belonged to St. Adday church.

The statue has been partially restored; its head has been replaced, though its hands have not.

Speaking March 7 to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner, Fr. Thabet Habeb, the pastor of St. Adday, recalled that when he first saw the image of the beheaded Virgin he experienced “a very sad feeling, because I saw my church like this, along with everything else. We prayed before this Virgin for many years and it was destroyed. It was something very important for the parish, for our church.”

Fr. Habeb said the statue “will return to Karemlesh and will be in our church upon our return.”

The priest hopes that a fruit of the Holy Father’s visit to Iraq will be that the government and the world would look at “this martyr Church, which must be aided so it can continue to bring the Gospel.”

The Islamic State swept through large swathes of Syria and Iraq in 2014, giving families of Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities an ultimatum – convert to Islam, die, or leave.

In 2017 the Nineveh Plain the area was liberated from the rule of the Islamic State.

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