Death and Displacement: Christians in Northern Iraq have experienced years of terrorist suffering. Pope Francis wants to give hope to the people there. An emotional visit awaits him.
Baghdad (dpa) – For Pope Francis, visiting the Christian community in Northern Iraq is one of the most important parts of his trip to the country on Sunday.
In recent years, people have longed for a visit from the head of the Catholic Church. The day tour aims to take the Pope to places related to the fight against the Islamic State (IS) terrorist militia. In the late afternoon, the final chord of the trip will take place with a mass for thousands of believers at the football stadium in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous region of Kurdistan.
Among other things, the Pope would visit Mosul in the Ninawa Plain. ISIS rule made the city a symbol of the suffering of Christians in Iraq. IS fighters took over the metropolis in 2014. Many Christians fled because they were about to die. Iraqi forces retook the city between 2016 and 2017 with the support of the international military coalition.
Mosul was severely damaged in the fierce fighting. Francis wants to pray for the victims of the war in the church square of Chush al-Bia. The terrorists destroyed the churches there between 2014 and 2017. There is still debris in the area.
On the same day, Francis wants to travel to the nearby town of Karakosh. Here too, people look back on a dark past with death and persecution by terrorists. The Church of the Immaculate Conception, where Francis wants to meet Christians, was massively destroyed between 2014 and 2016 and symbolizes the suffering of the local community. It was considered the largest church in the Syriac Catholic Church. There was room for about 2500 people. Tens of thousands of IS fled towards Erbil or sought protection abroad.
In the Kurdish capital of Erbil, Francis finally wants to celebrate the end of his visit with a big mass at the city’s football stadium. About 10,000 tickets were available for the event – a mass event in the midst of the corona pandemic. The Pope and his companions have been vaccinated against the corona virus. Nevertheless, at a time when the pandemic in Iraq is raging again, the entire visit of the Holy Father raised criticism.
For Christians in Iraq, the Pope’s visit is, as it were, an event of the century. John Paul II had already planned to travel to the holy sites of Christianity as part of a pilgrimage in 2000 and also to the plain of Ur in southern Iraq. The then ruler Saddam Hussein banned the visit. Francis is the first pope to visit the country of more than 38 million inhabitants.
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