• January 28, 2023

On Day 3, Pontiff Visits Areas Decimated By ISIS : NPR

The Archbishop of Mosul, Najib Mikhael Moussa (left), waves as he stands next to Pope Francis at the beginning of a meeting to pray for the war victims in the church square of Hosh al-Bieaa in the Iraqi capital of ISIS on Sunday. Andrew Medichini / AP Hide caption

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The Archbishop of Mosul, Najib Mikhael Moussa (left), waves as he stands next to Pope Francis at the beginning of a meeting to pray for the war victims in the church square of Hosh al-Bieaa in the Iraqi capital of ISIS on Sunday.

Andrew Medichini / AP

Pope Francis is spending the third day of his visit to Iraq in the north of the country, where an old Christian population is shrinking after the city of Mosul and the Nineveh Plains were destroyed by IS militants.

The Pope led prayers in a Christian area of ​​Mosul, where participants sang, prayed and held olive branches in a square still devastated by the devastating battles in the country’s second largest city.

Francis not only emphasized the forced relocation of many Christians, but also the “harmonious coexistence” and spoke of the support Christians received from Muslims as they gradually returned to the city. He also prayed for the Yazidi ethnic minority, who were particularly brutally attacked by ISIS.

He then traveled to the largely Christian city of Qaraqosh, where the Church of the Holy Immaculate Conception was gutted by IS, but renovated before his visit. The parish priest, Rev. Ammar Yako, said NPR Francis will be the first to lead prayers in the newly completed church.

Pope Francis, surrounded by the shells of destroyed churches, listens to Archbishop of Mosul Najib Mikhael Moussa during a meeting to pray for the war victims in the Hosh al-Bieaa church square in Mosul. Andrew Medichini / AP Hide caption

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Andrew Medichini / AP

Pope Francis, surrounded by the shells of destroyed churches, listens to Archbishop of Mosul Najib Mikhael Moussa during a meeting to pray for the war victims in the Hosh al-Bieaa church square in Mosul.

Andrew Medichini / AP

Christians in the Nineveh Plains region traced their roots almost back to Jesus’ time, but many had left before ISIS pierced the area in 2014. Despite the rebuilding of Christian areas and the help of international aid and Christian charities, there are many I hesitate to return because I fear the extremists may come back.

John Pontifex of the charity Aid to the Church in Need said the Pope’s visit could increase people’s determination to stay or return.

Pope holds historic meeting with best Shiite cleric in Iraq and preaches message of unity

“Given the length of their history and their unbroken record or presence, it is very important that the Pope go back to those early, early days,” he said.

Father Boulos Thabet Habib, a Chaldean Catholic priest in the village of Karemlash, traveled to nearby Mosul to attend the prayers. A choir of his church, Mar Addai, sang and a cross in the square was made of wood from his and other churches burned by ISIS.

Children in their festive robes waving Iraqi flags as they came to see Pope Francis in the church square of Hosh al-Bieaa in Mosul. Andrew Medichini / AP Hide caption

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Children in their festive robes waving Iraqi flags as they came to see Pope Francis in the church square of Hosh al-Bieaa in Mosul.

Andrew Medichini / AP

Rev. Thabet, as he is known, said the pope’s visit would recognize the work of the local church in rebuilding broken communities and burned churches since ISIS was pushed back from the area.

About half of the population has returned to Karemlash, he said. Others remain displaced in Baghdad or in the Kurdish north of the country.

“We hope that all families living as refugees in Kurdistan and Baghdad will return to Karemlash soon,” he said, taking the Pope’s visit as encouragement. “We hope that many of them will return after the Pope’s visit.”

The papal visit will “encourage the Iraqi people to be brothers,” he said.

Francis still has one day left to visit Iraq – the first papal visit to the predominantly Muslim nation. On Saturday he traveled to the ancient site of Ur, believed to be the birthplace of Abraham, where he preached a message of unity between different religions. He also visited the city of Najaf with the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the best Shiite Muslim cleric in Iraq. The Pope will attend a farewell ceremony in Baghdad on Monday before returning home.

Jack

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