Pope Francis, accompanied by autonomous Kurdistan region president Nechirvan Barzani (right), greets people dressed in traditional outfits on his arrival at Arbil airport on March 7. (Photo: AFP)
Pope Francis stressed on forgiveness while urging Iraqis to rebuild their country along the legacy of their forefathers.
“The great spiritual legacy they left behind continues to live in you. Embrace this legacy! It is your strength! Now is the time to rebuild and to start afresh,” the pope said during a March 7 Angelus address in the northern Iraqi city of Qaraqosh.
On the last day of his three-day visit, the pope stressed the need to maintain forgiveness in a place like Iraq that is plagued by war and terrorism.
“Forgiveness is needed on the part of those who survived the terrorist attacks. Forgiveness; that is a key word. Forgiveness is necessary to remain in love, to remain Christian.”
The pope also quoted Doha Sabah Abdallah, a local resident, who in her testimony stressed the need for forgiveness by people who were victims of terrorism and war.
He also denounced the trend to manipulate religion to suit the nefarious ethos of terrorism. “Our gathering here today shows that terrorism and death never have the last word.”
The Church in Qaraqosh has been rebuilt extensively after being ransacked by Islamic terrorists during their takeover of the town from 2014 to 2017.
Iraq's Christian population was reduced from around 1.5 million before the US-led invasion in 2003 to just a few hundred thousand now. Christians existed in Iraq since apostolic times.
The pontiff praised the Iraqis for defending their faith during the strife-torn times of war and terrorism. “Even amid the ravages of terrorism and war, we can see, with the eyes of faith, the triumph of life over death.”
He also offered the support of the Church while rebuilding the war-hit region. “You are not alone! The entire Church is close to you, with prayers and concrete charity. And in this region, so many people opened their doors to you in time of need.”
The pope said that rebuilding efforts should aim not just to restore “buildings but also the bonds of community that unite communities and families, the young and the old together.”
He added: “So I encourage you: do not forget who you are and where you come from! Do not forget the bonds that hold you together! Do not forget to preserve your roots!”
The pontiff also urged them to respect diverse religious traditions “in the effort to build a future of unity and cooperation between all people of goodwill.”
He also entrusted the rebuilding to Our Lady. “As I arrived on the helicopter, I saw the statue of Mary on this Church of Immaculate Conception. To her I entrusted the rebirth of this city.”