Displaced Iraqi Christians head home for ‘wartime’ Christmas

BARTELLA, Iraq (AP) — Three hundred Christians have been braving rain and wind to attend Christmas’s Eve Mass in their hometown in northern Iraq.

The Christians were displaced when the Islamic State group seized the town of Bartella in August 2014. They were bused back into town for a lunchtime service from Irbil, capital of the self-ruled Kurdish region where they have lived for more than two years.

The ceremony provided holiday cheer but also reminders of the war still raging.

IS militants torched the Assyrian Orthodox church of Mart Shmoni when they took Bartella . But church-supervised volunteers cleaned it up after government forces recaptured the town as part of an ongoing campaign to liberate the nearby city of Mosul and surrounding areas in Nineveh province.

The church is still missing its icons, electrical wiring hangs perilously from its ceiling and most light fixtures are gone. And a statue a late patriarch stands headless in the front yard, surrounded by shards of glass.

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