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Pope prays for victims in former bastion of IS in Iraq

Pope prays for victims in former bastion of IS in Iraq

dpa
Baghdad
Pope Francis on Sunday prayed for victims of Islamic State in the terrorist group’s one-time stronghold in northern Iraq, during the pontiff’s first-ever trip to the country.
Sunday is the third day of the 84-year-old’s visit to Iraq, where the Christian community has dwindled after years of war and persecution.
The pope had flown to the northern city of Mosul, which was occupied by Islamic State from 2014 to 2017, from Erbil, the capital of the northern autonomous Kurdistan region.
“If God is the God of peace - for so he is - then it is wrong for us to wage war in his name,” the pope said at Hosh al-Bieaa, a square comprising churches which are heavily damaged in Old Mosul, ahead of the prayers. “If God is the God of love - for so he is - then it is wrong for us to hate our brothers and sisters.” “Today we raise our voices in prayer to Almighty God for all the victims of war and armed conflict. Here in Mosul, the tragic consequences of war and hostility are all too evident,” he said.
“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, Yezidis and others - forcibly displaced or killed!” The pope toured the ruins in Mosul and also prayed there.
“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,” he said.
The pope later arrived in the town of Qaraqosh, on the plains of Nineveh, roughly 30 kilometres to the east of Mosul.
Qaraqosh was home to a large Christian community until Islamic State attacks destroyed the place and forced people to flee.
“Our gathering here today shows that terrorism and death never have the last word,” the pope told a crowd of people at the restored Grand Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh.
“Forgiveness: That is a key word. Forgiveness is necessary to remain in love, to remain Christian,” the pope added.
“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.” Thousands of Christians lined the streets of Qaraqosh to welcome the pope.

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