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Mass Celebrated in ISIS Destroyed Town Rebuilt by Knights of Columbus


By Andrew Fowler

War, persecution, and ruin. This was the reality of life in Karamles, an Iraqi town home to Christians and other religious minorities that was ravaged by the genocidal campaign of ISIS that began in 2014.

On Dec. 7, a Mass was held in Karamles as people returned to the town thanks to the efforts and donations made by the 1.9 million members of Knights of Columbus.

In 2016, the Knights committed to raising $2 million to rebuild Karamles and partnered with the Archdiocese of Erbil to resettle refugees, from the town and the surrounding area. Since 2014, the Order has committed more than $20 million to aid persecuted Christians and religious minorities in the Middle East.

The Mar Addai Chaldean Catholic Church, which had been destroyed and desecrated by ISIS along with most of the town's Christian homes, celebrated a rededication Mass that had an overflowing congregation of more than 1,000 people.

In a speech at the end of Mass, Father Thabet Habib Yousif thanked the many groups that made the rebuilding of his town possible, including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). He offered particular thanks to the continuing U.S. diplomatic efforts to save his threatened people and the Archdiocese of Erbil and Archbishop Bashar Warda, who sheltered and fed the displaced people of his town during the genocide.

"While many people have helped us, 97 percent of the restoration of homes and church buildings came from the Knights of Columbus,” said Father Thabet.

Father Thabet then presented the Knights with a wooden cross made from the remnants of the destroyed church that has a stone embedded in it from the original altar, which had been destroyed and used for target practice by ISIS during their occupation.

During the occupation by ISIS, hundreds of families fled the area, resettling and rebuilding in places like the Archdiocese of Erbil. ISIS declared Christians their “favorite prey.” Christians and other religious minorities faced beheadings and crucifixions, while women and girls as young as 1 year old, were sold into sexual slavery. In the last several years, the Christian population declined in Iraq from 1.4 million before 2002 to barely more than 250,000 in 2017, according to the U.S. State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report.

Meanwhile, the Knights have worked with the U.S. Congress and the Obama and Trump administrations to assist in the humanitarian efforts. The Order also commenced a joint effort with USAID in assisting religious minorities in the rebuilding and stabilization of their communities. Learn more about the Knights’ efforts here.

The latest milestone is the unanimous passage of the “Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act of 2018,” an act that will provide humanitarian relief for victims of genocide in Iraq and Syria, while holding ISIS perpetrators accountable.

President Donald Trump is set to sign the bipartisan legislation on Dec. 11.

The Knights will continue to help rebuild these communities. Please donate here to help.

For questions, or to tell your Knights of Columbus, reach out to andrew.fowler@kofc.org