Two events that traumatic October night sowed the seeds of distrust for over a decade to come.
As gunmen wreaked havoc inside the church, someone fired shots from the outside through a window into the sacristy. Climis couldn’t see who, but thought they were outsiders supporting the terrorists.
In fact, it was the Federal Police who mistakenly fired during the hours-long standoff. A row later ensued between them and the CTS over the incident, other witnesses said.
The bullets are still lodged in books stacked in the sacristy, Climis said.
The second event still haunts Climis. Why upon arriving to the church, he asks, did the CTS wait and not launch the raid directly.
“They did not enter until they got permission from Iraq’s government,” he said. The waiting cost precious lives.
That day, he said, “the Iraqi government did not do their duty toward (us), an ancient Iraqi community,”
The bloodbath shook Iraq’s Christians to the core. Their exodus had begun after the 2003 U.S. invasion, but increased markedly after the massacre. One by one, many of Climis’ friends and family began leaving, seeing no hope for justice.
With the IS onslaught a few years later, little has changed to improve their lot. Most of Climis’ family hails from the northern Christian town of Qaraqosh but are scattered around the world. He has run out of fingers to count the various countries where his relatives reside.
The pope’s visit to Iraq brings hope that he might be able to not only reconnect Iraq’s Christians to their homeland, but also, talk sense into Iraqi leaders who have so far neglected them, Climis said.
Despite his community shrinking around him, Climis has remained in Iraq with his family. Today he is a deacon in the Our Lady of Salvation Church, which is open and holds regular services, still with security presence outside. The immaculate interiors show no signs of its dark history, but the memory of those terrifying hours is still etched in the minds of its worshippers.
So why did Climis stay?
“Because this is my country,” he said.
This article written by Samya Kullab originally appeared on APNews.com.