Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi proclaimed the caliphate of the Islamic State (IS) on June 29, 2014 from the Al Nuri Mosque in Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. They entered, with little resistance to armed forces that fled like rabbits, and turned the city into the organization’s headquarters. Thus began a period of war and terror that plunged the region and this part of Iraq into devastation. Today, seven years later, a few meters from the mosque where the blood regime began, in the square of the four churches of a city still in ruins where there are barely a dozen Christian families, the Pope prayed before a Christian cross. “If God is the God of life — and he is — it is not lawful for us to kill our brothers in his name. If God is the God of peace – and he is – it is not permissible for us to wage war in his name, ”he began in a prayer unimaginable a few years ago.
Francisco, surrounded by buildings devastated after the liberation of the city, prayed for the victims and recalled the blood with which the IS sowed the last years of history in this place. The terrorist organization promised to invade Rome. But finally it has been his monarch who has flown here to accompany his victims. “In Mosul the tragic consequences of war and hostility are too obvious. It is cruel that this country, the cradle of civilization, has been hit by such an inhuman storm, with ancient places of worship destroyed and thousands upon thousands of people forcibly evicted or killed. Today, despite everything, we reaffirm our conviction that brotherhood is stronger than fratricide, hope is stronger than death, peace is stronger than war. This conviction speaks with a more eloquent voice than the voice of hatred and violence; and it can never be silenced in the blood shed by those who profane the name of God by traveling paths of destruction.
The Islamic State marked the homes of Christians in Mosul so that they could be looted more accurately. The barbarism caused the exodus of about 500,000 people, 120,000 of them Christians. Today only a handful of families remain. A trend that has been repeated in this area of the north of the country. For this reason, the third and last day of the Pope’s historic visit to Iraq was dedicated to bringing comfort to the Christian minorities in the region, persecuted and forced to leave by the Islamic State. In 2013 there were about 1.4 million Christians in the country and currently they range between 200,000 and 300,000. Only 50% of those who fled during the jihadist invasion have returned to their homes in Iraq.
The Pope then moved to the mostly Christian city of Qaraqosh (32 kilometers southwest of Mosul), where he was to celebrate a mass in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, just inaugurated after its destruction in 2014, when ISIS it burned down and used it as a shooting range. Here thousands of families were waiting for him, who resisted despite the harassment of the IS. Also others who had to flee in the middle of the night with what they were wearing, such as Mounir Jibrahil, a 61-year-old mathematics teacher. He emigrated to Erbil and did not return until 2016. He had to wait four more years to get his destroyed house back on its feet. “Now it is safer. It is wonderful to see the Pope, we never imagined that he would come to Qaraqosh. Maybe this will help rebuild the country finally bringing peace and love. ” Waiting in the same church was Andy Abd, 27, dressed for the occasion, a boy who also fled in 2014. He survived in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, for three years as a refugee. He was able to return because he found a job, but many of his friends emigrated to Canada or Australia.
Some families were irretrievably separated. Adara’s parents, a 26-year-old girl dressed in traditional Qaraqosh clothes waiting outside the temple, for example, never wanted to return. The Pope comforted them and invited those who had to pack their bags to return. “With great sadness, we look around us and perceive other signs, the signs of the destructive power of violence, hatred and war. How many things have been destroyed. And how much must be rebuilt. Our meeting shows that terrorism and death never have the last word ”.
Francisco asked the faithful, who were waiting for him on both sides of the race and inside the cathedral without respecting almost any sanitary security measure, to raise their lives here again. “This is the time to rebuild not only the buildings, but above all the links that unite communities and families, young and old.” But many still live in terror, such as Doha Sabah, who lost her son in a bombing, and gave her testimony to the Pontiff during the religious celebration in the Church of the Immaculate Conception of Qaraqosh, renovated for the occasion after the jihadists of the group Estado Islamic (IS) set it on fire in 2014. “We say no to terrorism and the instrumentalization of religion,” the Pope insisted.
Sunday’s day ended with a mass mass in Erbil, a city in Iraqi Kurdistan, which ended three intense days of travel. The first that the Pope performed after 15 months. A success, according to Vatican sources, and a turning point in its policy to build bridges with Islam. The idea of the Pontiff, once he and the workers who accompany him have been vaccinated, is to reprimand his agenda of international commitments.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.