People of Mosul have told Pope Francis stories of their lives under Islamic State’s brutal rule, with the pontiff blessing their wish to rise from ashes and telling them “fraternity is more durable than fratricide”.
Pope Francis who is in Iraq for peace visit flew into Mosul by helicopter on Sunday to encourage the binding of sectarian wounds and to pray for the dead of any religion. Pope who is 84-year-old walked past ruins of houses and churches to a square that was once the thriving centre of the old town.
The northern city of Iraq had been occupied by Islamic State IS from 2014 to 2017. Mosul’s Old City is home to ancient churches and mosques that were destroyed in 2017 during the bloody battle by Iraqi forces and an international military coalition to drive out Islamic State.
Efforts to rebuild the city of Mosul has been hampered by wide spread corruption and infighting among Iraqi politicians as large parts of the city remain in ruins.
The Pope during the visit offer prayers for all the Mosul’s dead
“How cruel it is that this country, the cradle of civilisation, 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,” he said.
In an apparent direct reference to Islamic State, he said hope could never be “silenced by the blood spilled by those who pervert the name of God to pursue paths of destruction”.
He then read a prayer repeating one of the main themes of his trip, the first by a pope to Iraq, that it is always wrong to hate, kill or wage war in God’s name.
Fighters of Islamic State, a Sunni militant group that tried to establish a caliphate across the region, ravaged northern Iraq from 2014 to 2017, killing Christians as well as Muslims who opposed them.
Iraq’s Christian community was devastated by the years of conflict, falling to about 300,000 from about 1.5 million before the US invasion of 2003 and the brutal Islamist militant violence that followed.
Father Raid Adel Kallo, pastor of the destroyed Church of the Annunciation, told how in 2014 he left with 500 Christian families and how fewer than 70 families were present now. “The majority have emigrated and are afraid to return,” he said.