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Pope Francis visits Iraq's war-ravaged north on final day of trip
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 07 - 03 - 2021

Pope Francis visited Iraq's war-ravaged north on Sunday, traveling to areas that were heavily damaged by Daesh (so-called IS) extremists.
At the start of the third day of his Apostolic Journey to Iraq, Pope Francis flew from Baghdad to Irbil where, upon his arrival, he was welcomed by the president, the prime minister of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as civil and religious authorities.
The Pope then met with the president of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, Nechirvan Barzani, and the Prime Minister Masrour Barzani at the Presidential VIP Lounge of the airport.
The 84-year-old pontiff will pray for Iraqi war victims in areas where Iraq's Christian minority fled the militants as part of the last day of the first-ever papal visit to the country.
Francis is visiting Iraq to encourage Christians communities to stay despite years of war and persecution. On Saturday, he met with a powerful Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, who said that Iraqi Christians should be able to live in peace.
Pope Francis also held a landmark inter religious gathering, giving a message of peaceful coexistence to communities.
Later in the day, Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Mosul where he will lead a prayer of suffrage for war victims at Hosh Al-Bieaa. He will then travel to Qaraqosh where he will visit the faithful at the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
Afterwards, he will return to Irbil, where at 4:00 PM he will celebrate Holy Mass at the "Franso Hariri" stadium. The Pope will then travel back to Baghdad.
The prayer in the northern city of Mosul, which was widely damaged in the war against Daesh, will be a city square surrounded by the remnants of four damaged churches belonging to some of Iraq's myriad Christian denominations.
Pope Francis will travel by helicopter across the Nineveh plains to the small Christian community of Qaraqosh, where only a fraction of families have returned after fleeing the Daesh onslaught in 2014.
He will pray in the Church of the Immaculate Conception, which was torched by Daesh and restored in recent years.
At the end of his final day, he will hold mass in a stadium in Irbil, a city in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region. Thousands are expected to attend despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pope Francis hopes to deliver a message of hope, one underscored by the historic nature of the visit and the fact that it is his first international trip since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Also known as Hewlêr in Kurdish and Arbīl in Arabic, the city of Irbil is the capital and the largest city of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. It is located at an approximated 88 kilometers east of Mosul and is just under 300 kilometers away from the Syrian border.
Considered as one of the oldest cities in the world, Irbil's first urban settlements date as far back as 2300 BC. Over the centuries, many peoples including Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes, Romans Abbassids and Ottomans have lived within the citadel of this ancient city.
The famous citadel of Irbil, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014 covers about 110,000 square meters and sits about 30 meters above its immediate surroundings.
Inside it is located the Grand Mosque and the Kurdish Textile Museum. The city's significant museums — the Irbil Civilization Museum and the Syriac Heritage Museum — are home to several artifacts from the area.
In recent years, Irbil has become home to thousands of refugees, mostly from Qaraqosh and Mosul, who fled for their lives during the rule of Daesh. The city has welcomed an estimated 540,000 Iraqi refugees in addition to other Syrian refugees into camps in the region. — Agencies


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