Where IS ruled, pope calls on Christians to forgive, rebuild

Pope Francis called on Iraq’s Christians to forgive the injustices committed against them by Muslim extremists and to rebuild as he visited the wrecked shells of churches and met ecstatic crowds in the community’s historic heartland, which was nearly erased by the Islamic State group’s horrific reign. At each stop in northern Iraq, the remnants of its Christian population turned out, jubilant, ululating, decked out in colorful dress, though heavy security prevented Francis from plunging into the crowd as he would normally do. Nonetheless, they seemed simply overjoyed that they had not been forgotten. It was a sign of the desperation for support among an ancient community uncertain whether it can hold on. Traditionally Christian towns dotting the Nineveh Plains of the north were emptied as Christians — as well as many Muslims — fled the Islamic State group’s onslaught in 2014. Only a few have returned to their homes since the defeat of IS in Iraq declared four years ago, and the rest remain scattered elsewhere in Iraq or abroad. Bells rang out in the town of Qaraqosh as the pope arrived. Speaking to a packed Church of the Immaculate Conception, Francis said “forgiveness” is a key word for Christians. “The road to a full recovery may still be long, but I ask you, please, not to grow discouraged. What is needed is the ability to forgive, but also the courage not to give up.” The Qaraqosh church has been extensively renovated after being vandalised by IS militants during their takeover of the town, making it a symbol of recovery efforts. For the Vatican, the continued presence of Christians in Iraq is vital to keeping alive faith communities that have existed here since the time of Christ. The population has dwindled from around 1.5 million before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that plunged the country into chaos to just a few hundred thousand today. Francis came to Iraq to encourage them to stay and help rebuild the country and restore what he called its “intricately designed carpet” of faith and ethnic groups.

Where IS ruled, pope calls on Christians to forgive, rebuild
Pope Francis called on Iraq’s Christians to forgive the injustices committed against them by Muslim extremists and to rebuild as he visited the wrecked shells of churches and met ecstatic crowds in the community’s historic heartland, which was nearly erased by the Islamic State group’s horrific reign. At each stop in northern Iraq, the remnants of its Christian population turned out, jubilant, ululating, decked out in colorful dress, though heavy security prevented Francis from plunging into the crowd as he would normally do. Nonetheless, they seemed simply overjoyed that they had not been forgotten. It was a sign of the desperation for support among an ancient community uncertain whether it can hold on. Traditionally Christian towns dotting the Nineveh Plains of the north were emptied as Christians — as well as many Muslims — fled the Islamic State group’s onslaught in 2014. Only a few have returned to their homes since the defeat of IS in Iraq declared four years ago, and the rest remain scattered elsewhere in Iraq or abroad. Bells rang out in the town of Qaraqosh as the pope arrived. Speaking to a packed Church of the Immaculate Conception, Francis said “forgiveness” is a key word for Christians. “The road to a full recovery may still be long, but I ask you, please, not to grow discouraged. What is needed is the ability to forgive, but also the courage not to give up.” The Qaraqosh church has been extensively renovated after being vandalised by IS militants during their takeover of the town, making it a symbol of recovery efforts. For the Vatican, the continued presence of Christians in Iraq is vital to keeping alive faith communities that have existed here since the time of Christ. The population has dwindled from around 1.5 million before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that plunged the country into chaos to just a few hundred thousand today. Francis came to Iraq to encourage them to stay and help rebuild the country and restore what he called its “intricately designed carpet” of faith and ethnic groups.