The Pope today released a dove of peace in the ruined ruins of Mosul, a former stronghold of the murderous Islamic state.
And he called on Christians, Muslims and Yazidis who fled the slaughter in Iraqi cities to offer forgiveness after the brutal regime’s reign of terror.
The 84-year-old visited Mosul on the last day of his historic visit to the war-ravaged country.
In the shadow of four destroyed churches, Pope Francis said to the crowd: “How cruel it is that this country, the cradle of civilization, should be hit by such a barbaric blow, in which ancient places of worship were destroyed and many thousands of people were killed, Muslims, Christians, Yazidis who were cruelly destroyed by terrorism, and others who were forcibly displaced or killed. ”
Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, was at the heart of the IS caliphate and witnessed the group’s worst rule, including beheadings and mass murders.
It was delivered in July 2017, but few Christians have returned.
The Pope urged them to return to help rebuild the community and restore the country’s “intricately designed carpet” of beliefs and ethnic groups.
He also highlighted the plight of the Yazidi minority, who were subjected to mass murders, kidnappings and sexual slavery by IS. Pope Francis was joined by the Reverend Raed Kallo, one of the few Christians in Mosul.
He said, “My Muslim brothers received me with great hospitality and love after the city was liberated.
“Today I live among two million Muslims who call me their father Raed.”
The Muslim head of the Independent Social and Cultural Council for the Families of Mosul, Gutayba Aagha, added: “I invite all of our Christian brothers to return to this city, its properties and its businesses.”
The Pope later traveled 20 miles southeast to the city of Qaraqosh, where bells rang to greet him.
In his speech at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, which was restored after the destruction by ISIS, he said: “The road to full recovery may still be long, but I ask you not to be discouraged. What is needed is the ability to forgive, but also the courage not to give up. “
The Pope then presided over a mass in a stadium in the city of Erbil.
He arrived in Iraq on Friday and is scheduled to return to Rome today.
Health experts fear the tour will result in a surge in Covid-19 after large crowds gathered to greet the Pope. He and members of his delegation were vaccinated, but most Iraqis were not.
Breathtaking that Pope Francis visited him
Writes to Chris Hughes
Daily Mirror Defense and Security Editor
Not so long ago it would have been inconceivable that a Pope would visit the battle-scarred Iraqi city of Mosul.
It was the linchpin of the rule of Islamic State when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the caliphate.
Where it could cost you your head not to go along with ISIS, let alone be a Christian leader.
It is breathtaking that Pope Francis made the Mosul visit and was elsewhere in Iraq.
Even with the many thousands of Iraqi and Kurdish troops securing his visits to Iraq, he is still in great danger. ISIS is still present in areas like Mosul and still has supporters in the region.
It is difficult to say whether the visit will have a positive effect on the region in the long term, but it was a very brave initiative.
Iraq has two main problems: a resurgence of IS and its Sunni supporters and an anti-Western Shiite militia supported by Iran.
Pope Francis’ visit could both calm and comfort the remaining 250,000 Christians in Iraq and encourage moderate Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Iraq to stay that way.
His meeting with the reclusive Grand Ayatollah Ali-al-Sistani in Najaf, an iconic sacred Iraqi city, was amazing.
Surely it will also serve as a defiant gesture against those who want ISIS to raise its evil head again, against the ruthless leaders of the network, and against the attackers of Shiite Iran.
Coalition commanders in Iraq are, however, prepared for the next step of ISIS and another round of pro-Iranian militia attacks.