Pope Francis heard Muslim and Christian residents in the ruined Iraqi city of Mosul tell of their lives under brutal Daesh rule on Sunday, blessing their vow to rise up from ashes and promising them “fraternity is more durable than fratricide”, reported Reuters.
Francis, on a historic first visit by a pope to Iraq, visited the northern city to encourage the healing of sectarian wounds and to pray for the dead of any religion.
The 84-year-old pope saw ruins of houses and churches in a square that was the old town’s thriving centre before Mosul was occupied by Daesh from 2014 to 2017. He sat surrounded by skeletons of buildings, dangling concrete staircases, and cratered ancient churches, most too dangerous to enter.
“Together we say no to fundamentalism. No to sectarianism and no to corruption,” the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, Najeeb Michaeel, told the pope.
Much of the old city was destroyed in 2017 during the bloody battle by Iraqi forces and an international military coalition to drive out Daseh.
Francis, who flew to Mosul by helicopter, was visibly moved by the earthquake-like devastation around him. He prayed for all of the city’s dead.
“How cruel it is that this country, the cradle of civilization, 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.
“Today, however, we reaffirm our conviction that fraternity is more durable than fratricide, that hope is more powerful than hatred, that peace more powerful than war.”
Intense security has surrounded his trip to Iraq. Military pickup trucks mounted with machine guns escorted his motorcade and plainclothes security men mingled in Mosul with the handles of guns emerging from black backpacks worn on their chests.
In an apparent direct reference to Daesh, Francis 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, that it is always wrong to hate, kill or wage war in God’s name.
Fighters of Daesh, a militant group that tried to establish a caliphate across the region, ravaged northern Iraq from 2014-2017, killing Christians as well as Muslims who opposed them.
Iraq’s Christian community, one of the oldest in the world, has been particularly 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 militant violence that followed.