A fire that ripped through a wedding venue in northern Iraq has killed more than 100 people in a majority-Christian town still rebuilding after years of ISIS occupation.
The hall in Qaraqosh on the Nineveh Plains burned Tuesday night during a Syriac Catholic wedding celebration. Witnesses and civil defense officials told the BBC that the fire was sparked, with hundreds of guests present, by fireworks set off as the bride and groom danced.
Archbishop Bashar Warda, who leads the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil, said in a Sept. 27 statement to EWTN News that “patriarchs, bishops, and priests from all faiths gathered today in Qaraqosh to bury those who had perished.”
“No words can adequately describe the mourning of those bringing their loved ones to their final resting places in their ancient land. What was to be a time of joy has now turned into a whole community into mourning and deep shock,” the archbishop, for years an outspoken advocate for the Middle East’s persecuted Christian minority, told EWTN News.
“I ask for your prayers for those souls we have lost and the severely injured. I ask you to pray for the Syriac community and their families within Iraq and the diaspora.”
One Catholic priest lost 10 of his family members in the fire, Warda said. The injured have reportedly been transferred to hospitals across the Nineveh Plains.
“Many are going from house to house to comfort the mourning. It will sadly not be the first day of funerals as dozens are missing, dozens are severely injured presently receiving hospital treatment for first-degree burns and the inhalation of toxic fumes,” Warda continued.
While Iraq is predominantly Muslim, the Nineveh Plains are historically Christian and are home to one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, stretching back more than 1,600 years. The Christian population has shrunk dramatically in recent decades, especially due to the terror wrought by the so-called Islamic State.