Pope Francis on Sunday called for peaceful coexistence in war-torn northern Iraq, calling on Christians in the country to forgive the injustices committed against them by Muslim extremists and to rebuild while visiting the church ruins.
The 84-year-old pontiff prayed for the victims of the Iraqi war in areas where the country’s Christian minority fled Islamic State militants from 2014 to 2017 as part of the last day of the first papal visit to the country.
Francis is visiting Iraq to encourage Christian communities to stay despite years of war and persecution.
Francis traveled to the northern city of Mosul on Sunday and prayed in a city square surrounded by the remains of four damaged churches that belong to some of Iraq’s myriad Christian denominations.
The Islamic State invaded the city in 2014 and declared a caliphate from northern Syria through northern and western Iraq. The city had great symbolic importance for the group, but was liberated in July 2017 after a nine-month battle.
Pope Francis traveled across the Nineveh plains to the small Christian community of Qaraqosh, where only a fraction of the families have returned after fleeing the ISIS attack in 2014.
He prayed in the Church of the Immaculate Conception, which was burned down by IS and restored in recent years.
Pope meets father of drowned refugee child
Pope Francis met Sunday with the father of Alan Kurdi, a 3-year-old Syrian boy who drowned crossing the Mediterranean Sea in 2015.
The image of Alan’s body that appeared on the Turkish shores shocked the world and came to symbolize the dangerous journey to Europe.
After a mass Sunday in the Iraqi city of Irbil, Francis met with Abdullah Kurdi, the Vatican said.
Through an interpreter, the Pope listened to Kurdi’s story and expressed his sympathy for the loss of his family. Abdullah thanked the Pope for his words.
The Kurdi family took the route of many Syrians and other migrants in 2015 by sea in a small boat from Turkey bound for Greece.
When their boat sank, Alan Kurdi, one of his brothers and their mother perished.
The father now runs a charity in Irbil.
Call for peaceful coexistence
On Saturday he met with a powerful Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who said Iraqi Christians should be able to live in peace.
Francis also held a historic interfaith meeting, delivering a message of peaceful coexistence to the communities.
Iraq declared victory over ISIS in 2017, and although the extremist group no longer controls any territory, it continues to carry out sporadic attacks, especially in the north. The brutal three-year rule left a lot of destruction.
The Christian minority was particularly affected, thousands of people fled the country, leaving homes and churches destroyed by the extremists.
Francisco hopes to convey a message of hope, underscored by the historic nature of the visit and the fact that it is his first international trip since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism