A church bell rang out in the Iraqi city of Mosul for the first time in seven years on Sunday.
The 285-kilogram bell was rung in the Syriac Christian church of Mar Tuma following a local and French-led restoration effort.
The church was demolished by ISIS during its takeover of the northern city in 2014. According to the French NGO Fraternity in Iraq – that led the project – the place of worship had been just “a pile of rubble” when repairs began.
The bell was restored in Beirut and then flown to Mosul to be reinstalled in the 19th-century church.
"After seven years of silence, the bell of Mar Tuma rang for the first time on the right bank of Mosul," Father Pios Affas told AFP.
A large congregation of Iraqi Christians travelled to the church to witness its reopening, which Fraternity in Iraq said was in part thanks to the efforts of the local Muslim majority.
“We would like to thank the dedication of the mukhtar [local elder] and the people of the Muslim village of Khidr because they are the ones who cleared the 600 cubic metres of rubble resulting from the blast,” the NGO said.
The return of the Mosul bell "heralds days of hope, and opens the way, God willing, for the return of Christians to their city," Fr Affas said.
"This is a great day of joy, and I hope the joy will grow even more when not only all the churches and mosques in Mosul are rebuilt, but also the whole city, with its houses and historical sites," he said.
Nidaa Abdel Ahad, one of the worshippers attending the inauguration, said she had returned to her home town from Erbil so that she could see the church being "brought back to life".
"My joy is indescribable," said the teacher. "It's as if the heart of Christianity is beating again."
Christians cautiously return
Faraj-Benoit Camurat, founder and head of Fraternity in Iraq, said that "all the representations of the cross, all the Christian representations, were destroyed," including the church's marble altars.
"We hope this bell will be the symbol of a kind of rebirth in Mosul," he said.
Iraq's Christian community, which numbered more than 1.5 million in 2003 before the US-led invasion, has shrunk to about 400,000, with many of them fleeing the violence that has ravaged the country.
Mr Camurat said about 50 Christian families had resettled in Mosul, while others travel there to work for the day.
"The Christians could have left forever and abandoned Mosul," but instead on being very active in the city, he said.