Christian saint's ancient relics survive ISIS destruction of Syrian monastery

A fourth-century saint's relics have survived the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria's  (ISIS) destruction of the Mar Elian monastery in Syria, according to a priest who has escaped captivity.

(Reuters/Khaled al-Hariri)Debris lie inside a damaged church in Mar Bacchus Sarkis monastery, in Maloula village, northeast of Damascus, after soldiers loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad took control of it from rebel fighters, April 14, 2014.

In an interview with the Catholic News Agency (CNA), Fr. Jacques Mourad said the survival of Saint Mar Elian's bones is one of the signs of hope for the people in Syria after all the ISIS atrocities. However, he said they still have to wait for the end of the war before they can rebuild their lives.

"In Mar Elian, we have always hoped to welcome everyone. Mar Elian was really a sign of hope for the Syrian people," Fr. Mourad told CNA. "Everything changed when I was taken hostage. But we can still build something. We must, however, await the end of this war."

ISIS had captured and destroyed the Mar Elian monastery in the town of Al-Qaryatayn in August 2015. The saint's tomb was one of the first things the militants attacked, believing that such structures are "a heresy."

After their town was liberated, Fr. Mourad said they thought the saint's relics were lost, but were delighted when the bones were recovered. Right now, the Syrian Christians are seeking to return Mar Elian's bones to their original storage place.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Christians in the town of Qaraqosh have started returning after military forces successfully drove ISIS out. Upon surveying the destruction that the jihadists left behind, Fr. Ammar of the Syrian Catholic Church was driven to tears, Deutsche Welle reports.

Fr. Ammar said he was unable to recognize their hospital and church, and showed a photo of a church wall bearing the names of the jihadists all beginning with Abu. The government reportedly wants to clean up Qaraqosh, but the local Christians said they want to document all the crimes that ISIS militants have committed in their town before doing so.