Volunteers urge Christians to return to Mosul

It's meant to be a place of peace and prayer -- but St Thomas church in Mosul, Iraq is more dust and debris these days.

So a team of volunteers is hard at work, sweeping away the remnants of what was once Islamic State territory, and hoping the Christians who once lived here will return to be their neighbors again.

Mohammed Essam is a leader of the volunteers.

"First of all, it is a message to say 'come back, we need you, we want you, Mosul isn't complete without you, you are the trust, the heart, we miss you from all our heart, for real'."

The Syriac Catholic Church dates from the mid-1800s, but was looted by Islamic State, which controlled this region for three long years.

The militants were driven out three years ago, but not before Essam says he saw atrocities against religious minorities like Christians.

On the other side of the city, Father Adel holds a Sunday service in Mosul's main operating church of Bishara.

He says about 45,000 Christians lived in Mosul until the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Now, he estimates only about 50 Christian families have returned to live in the city so far.

But more and more are coming to work or study each day, he says, helped by young people like the volunteers.

"I always say, hope lies in our youth. The youth are the hope of this city after it suffered from so many difficulties and problems, it was a tunnel of darkness. The youth today are the hope and the beautiful thinking that will make this city beautiful."

They hope the Christians will soon feel able to stay.