Pope Francis made an emphatic appeal for peaceful coexistence in Iraq on Sunday as he prayed for the country’s war dead amid the ruins of four demolished churches in Mosul, which suffered widespread destruction in the war against the Islamic State (IS) group.
Francis travelled to northern Iraq on the final day of his historic visit to minister to the country’s dwindling number of Christians, who were forced to leave their homes en masse when IS militants overtook vast swaths of northern Iraq in the summer of 2014.
Few have returned in the years since IS was routed in 2017, and Francis came to Iraq to encourage them to stay and help rebuild the country and restore what he called its “intricately designed carpet” of faith and ethnic groups. For the Vatican, the continued presence of Christians in Iraq is vital to keeping alive faith communities that have existed here since the time of Christ.
In a scene unimaginable just four years ago, the pontiff mounted a stage in a city square surrounded by the remnants of four heavily damaged churches belonging to some of Iraq’s myriad Christian rites and denominations. A jubilant crowd welcomed him.
“How cruel it is that this country, the cradle of civilization, should have been afflicted by so barbarous a blow, with ancient places of worship destroyed and many thousands of people – Muslims, Christians, Yazidis — who were cruelly annihilated by terrorism — and others forcibly displaced or killed,” Francis said.
He deviated from his prepared speech to address the plight of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, which was subjected to mass killings, abductions and sexual slavery at the hands of IS.
“Today, however, we reaffirm our conviction that fraternity is more durable than fratricide, that hope is more powerful than hatred, that peace more powerful than war,” Francis said.
The square where he spoke is home to four different churches — Syro-Catholic, Armenian-Orthodox, Syro-Orthodox and Chaldean — each of them left in ruins. SOVEREIGNPH