Pope meets Christians in IS-ravaged northern Iraq

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Pope Francis is going to meet Christians on Sunday, on the third and last day of a historic visit to Iraq, in the north where the Islamic State (IS) organization had decreed its self-proclaimed “caliphate” in 2014.

• Read also: In Iraq, the Pope and the Shiite Ayatollah Sistani commit to “peace”

• Read also: In Baghdad, the pope’s mass between ululating and scent of incense

His coming to Mosul, a historic commercial crossroads in the Middle East, is highly symbolic. During the jihadist breakthrough, the Pope said he was ready to come to the displaced and other victims of war.

Sunday in Mosul, he will first recite a “prayer for the victims of the war”, these thousands of Yazidis, Christians and Muslims murdered by the jihadists or fallen in combat to dislodge them from Iraq.

Seven years later, the sovereign pontiff will discover the ruins left behind by the jihadists driven out of Iraq in 2017, he who firmly denounced “the weapons”, “the terrorism which abuses religion” and “the intolerances” .

“We all hope that this visit will bode well for the Iraqi people. We hope that it will lead to better days ”, enthuses already to AFP Adnane Youssef, Christian from northern Iraq.

“This very important visit is going to cheer us up after years of difficulties, problems and wars”, adds Father George Jahoula, while the Christian community in Iraq withers every year as they go into exile.

In this country of 40 million inhabitants, almost all Muslims, Christians are only 400,000 today, compared to 1.5 million before the American invasion in 2003.

In Mosul, whose old city is still just a huge pile of rubble, the Pope will meet with all the Christian communities after taking their cause to the authorities in Baghdad.

This is the day when bodyguards and law enforcement will be most alert. Because if the visit of the Pope is historic, the security system deployed to welcome it is just as important.

Thousands of faithful

The few kilometers that the Pope traveled by road were in armored cars. For the majority of the 1,445 km of his route, which began on Friday afternoon, the Sovereign Pontiff is in a plane or a helicopter to fly over rather than cross areas where clandestine jihadist cells are still hiding.

And all this, in the middle of a total containment decreed until Monday – the Pope will leave Monday morning – in the face of COVID-19 contaminations which are reaching records in Iraq these days.

After Mosul, the leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics will go to the emblematic locality of Qaraqosh, further east, where the al-Tahira church, which was burnt down by ISIS, has been completely rehabilitated. cleaned and redecorated for its coming.

Until the last moment, between rehearsals for the choirs, cleaning the marble slabs of churches and decorations installed in the streets, the inhabitants of Qaraqosh spared no effort.

It is there, in the plain of Nineveh, that most of the Christians of the country lived. They fled their villages in 2014, finding refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan. Only a few tens of thousands of them have since returned.

The words said to the Pope on Saturday by Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a great figure of Shiism in Iraq and beyond, ensuring to work so that the Christians of Iraq live in “peace”, in “security” and with “all their constitutional rights ”, Could however provide them with comforting support.

Key moment of Sunday, the mass that the Pope is to celebrate in the afternoon in a stadium in Erbil in front of thousands of faithful.

Erbil is the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, which is considered a haven of peace in the middle of a war-torn Middle East. Security and infrastructure are better there than in Baghdad or Mosul.

The pope who loves walkabouts so much and has been deprived of them since his arrival in Iraq will be able to find the faithful and probably greet them from the popemobile which has so far not been used.