Mosul, Iraq, Mar 31, 2017 / 12:53 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The desolation of a burned Iraqi church left Argentine-born missionary Father Luis Montes with the firm conviction that Satan is at the root of the attacks, and Christians must pray for the conversion of ISIS.

“The one who is behind everything is the devil, behind ISIS and the rest of the jihadist groups, and behind the people who support them, some by a similar fanaticism and others for various interests,” the priest said upon visiting the heavily damaged Church of Saint George in Bartella, recently freed from the Islamic State group.

Fr. Montes said that these forces are in reality attacking Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the human race. “But since they cannot harm him, they attack his churches, his faithful, in memory of him,” he said. “It really shakes you up to see a sacred place burned, vandalized, desecrated,” he said on his Facebook page March 24.

“You’re left speechless seeing what you already knew from photos and testimonies. It makes your blood run cold.” “To see the floors, the walls, the ceilings full of soot, the pews thrown any which way, statues broken, scattered, trampled, the sacred books reduced to ashes, you perceive in a very powerful way the hatred that caused this, the hatred that can be summed up in a sentence: the rejection of Christ and his Cross.”

He stressed that “the same hatred that attacks the temples of Christ, attacks the living temples which are the Christians.” Fr. Montes acknowledged that the Islamic State group “attacks everyone who does not think like they do,” but he said Christians are persecuted because Christ was the first one persecuted.

Seeing a destroyed church brings sadness, pain, and anger, but also “a holy pride, because they are persecuting us for belonging to Christ,” the priest reflected. “Jesus told us that when this happens, let us rejoice, because our reward will be great in Heaven.”

The priest’s March 23 visit to Bartella and Qaraqosh came at the invitation of Archbishop Alberto Ortega, apostolic nuncio to Iraq and Jordan. The traditionally Christian towns were seized by the Islamic State group two years ago and only recently freed by Iraqi military troops.

Father Montes is a missionary of the Institute of the Incarnate Word. He has been on mission in Iraq for more than five years. Those who doubt that Christians are persecuted should visit these towns, he said. Despite the great pain left in the wake of ISIS, the priest said he also found grace.

“It was a deep joy which led me to pick up some keepsakes of that place: a stone, a cover of a burned missal, a piece of some destroyed statue, all symbols of the grace that God grants us for being persecuted for his Son.” “So much destruction must move us to pray for the persecutors,” Fr. Montes said, calling them “the foolish followers of the greatest loser in history.”

“The devil makes noise and instills fear but he is the great failure,” he explained. “When he succeeded in killing the Son of God, he lost the power he had, and now, when evil seems to be more victorious, in reality it is when it most defeats itself, because God ordains everything for the good of his chosen ones.”

The priest urged the faithful “to pray for those who follow the devil, so they may convert and live, because God is capable of calling them to Himself and awaits our prayers to give us the glory of being partakers in his victory.”