Pope Francis on Sunday continued his historic visit to Iraq, traveling to the northern cities of Erbil, Mosul, and Qaraqash – the latter two which prior to 2017 were ravaged by ISIS occupation and fighting since 2014.
“You have protected the Christians when Daesh attacked,” the pope told Kurdistan Regional Government officials in Erbil, using the Arabic name for ISIS. He called the Kurdish regions into which Iraqi Christians fled en masse during the 2014 declaration of the so-called ‘caliphate’ a “home for displaced Christians.”
He later held mass in Mosul in a historic Old City square surrounded by the ruins of bombed-out churches that had been destroyed by ISIS after the city’s takeover in 2014. Importantly, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had once initiated the Islamic State caliphate from this very city.
The terror leader then ordered a campaign to detonate all churches and ‘unIslamic’ shrines, including the Tomb of Jonah.
The Pope was photographed standing in the Hosh al-Bieaa, or the Square of the Four Churches — which include the Armenian Orthodox, Chaldean, Syriac Catholic and Syriac Orthodox churches — from where he declared a message of “harmonious coexistence” for all Iraqi people and faith backgrounds.
Mosul once had a sizable Christian minority of tens of thousands, but has since the ISIS occupation and defeat by national and Kurdish militia forces in the region been emptied of almost all Christian inhabitants.
The region known as the Nineveh Plains surrounding Mosul had once been home to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians; however, the 2003 US invasion of Iraq was the beginning of the ancient community’s rapid decline.
“Here in Mosul, the tragic consequences of war and hostility are all too evident,” Francis said.
The Roman Catholic Leader added: “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 and others — forcibly displaced or killed!”
One Catholic news agency, EWTN, noted that at the height of the Islamic State’s power years ago, Baghdad directly threatened the Pope:
In this place ISIS promised to conquer Rome and behead the Pope.
📹VIDEO | In this place ISIS promised to conquer Rome and behead the Pope. Today #PopeFrancis arrived in Mosul to pray for peace, recalling that God is the God of life and “it is wrong for us to kill our brothers and sisters in his Name.” #PopeFrancisinIraq #PopeinIraq pic.twitter.com/qu6Bqvdhkl
— EWTN News (@EWTNews) March 7, 2021
“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,” he added.
Later in the day the 84-year-old pontiff traveled by helicopter to the single largest Christian city in Iraq, called Qaraqosh, where he prayed inside the ruins of churches damaged or destroyed by terrorists.
He’s also expected to return to Erbil to hold a large open air mass in a stadium, which may draw as many as 10,000 people also amid a huge security presence.