Christians in the city of Qaraqosh, Iraq, were able to worship for the first time on Sunday since the take over of their land by the Islamic State in 2014, according to a Reuters report.
The mass, attended by dozens of Iraqi Christians, took place at the Church of Immaculate Conception.
The news comes as Iraqi troops and U.S.-led air and ground forces have been driving back the Sunni Muslim jihadists ahead of a battle for the city of Mosul itself.
“Today Qaraqosh is free of Daesh (Islamic State),” Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul Butrus Moshe told worshippers.
When ISIS targeted the adherents and religious sites of minority communities in Iraq and Syria, they gave Christians an ultimatum: pay a tax, convert to Islam, or die by the sword.
Many people left their homes and went toward the Kurdish region, leaving one of Christianity’s earliest centers.
“Our role today is to remove all the remnants of Daesh,” said the archbishop, who was born in Qaraqosh. “This includes erasing sedition, separation and conflicts, which victimized us.”
“Political and sectarian strife, separating between one man and another, between ruler and follower, these mentalities must be changed,” he said.
More than 25,000 forces, including the Iraqi army, the Kurdish Peshmerga, Sunni tribal fighters and Shiite militias are taking part in the Mosul offensive, which is the largest since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The number of Christians fell drastically after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, but the Islamic State takeover of Mosul two years ago purged the city of Christians for the first time in two millennia.