03/07/2021, 15.31
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Iraqi Christians and Muslims after the Islamic State, Pope healing the wounds of Mosul and Nineveh

Fr Paul, parish priest in Karamles, spoke how he felt seeing Pope Francis kiss the wooden cross made from pieces of his church destroyed by jihadis. The pontiff leaves “a scent of celebration that overcomes the stench [. . .] of death.” Mosul Eye notes that the Islamic State wanted to invade Rome, but today its bishop prayed for the city.

Mosul (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis visited Mosul and Qaraqosh today.  When he “kissed the wooden cross, built with pieces of my church in Karamles burnt down by the Islamic State (IS), it was an intense feeling and a beautiful moment because I consider this kiss as a sign, a seal that Karamles can be reborn after darkness and violence,” said Fr Paul Thabit Mekko, head of the Christian community in Karamles, in the Nineveh Plain, speaking to AsiaNews.

Underscoring the feeling and happiness of an entire city and region, of Christians and Muslims, the visit enabled the pontiff to see with his own eyes some of the places that have come to symbolise jihadi madness. “Now I will make sure to bring this cross back to its church, for the celebrations of Holy Week,” Fr Paul said.

This morning Pope Francis visited what was for a long while the Caliphate's stronghold in Iraq. From Mosul the pontiff travelled to Qaraqosh, the most important and populous Christian town on the Nineveh Plain, where a crowd of festive Christians greeted him with cries of joy and songs, following the car that carried him.

“We really had a day of celebration during this very beautiful meeting, teeming with people,” said Fr Paul “Just a day before, it didn't seem possible, but we were able to stick to the whole schedule.”

The event with the greatest participation was the “prayer and the moment of silence for the victims of the war.” Despite the pandemic of the novel coronavirus, many wanted to see the Pope who came from afar if only for a few seconds.

“Iraqis are like a vaccine against the virus,” said the clergyman jokingly. “Today almost 300 people were waiting for him, but if they had allowed anyone, at least half a million people would have come.”

“The Pope leaves a festive scent that overcomes and covers the stench of destruction, deep riff, and death left behind by the Islamic State, both in Mosul and the Nineveh plain.

“The presence of the pontiff is a balm that is a source of healing for all of us, Christians and Muslims. They too, with us and like us, have experienced a moment of great celebration by saying on several occasions 'We are all brothers'.” 

The Pope's visit to Mosul also deeply moved a Muslim who, in the days of the Islamic State, described all the violence and atrocities perpetrated by al-Baghdadi's men on the blog Mosul Eye, putting his own life at risk.

“Today is a day that marks a change for Mosul,” Prof Omar Mohammed told AsiaNews. There is “hope that in the future, if we do an internet search the city will not be associated with the Islamic State, but with a Pope praying. The power of the Daesh[*] signs and symbols had threatened to invade Rome; today the Holy Father came as Bishop of Rome to pray in Mosul. What a celebration!”

“Even for Muslims, it is a historic moment,” noted the scholar. “The most significant is when the Pope declared that he wanted to make Mosul a city of coexistence, of fraternity. This is the greatest message of all. He spoke to everyone for everyone. No one had ever spoken like this.” For the people of the city and Iraq, “this was powerful and exciting.”

“Many Muslims said that today is the day when we can really celebrate the liberation of Mosul,” Omar Mohammed explained. “Finally, today we have lowered the black flag through the eyes of the Pope. He decided to pray amid rubble and destruction, sending a very strong message while bringing global attention to the city.”

The city’s residents, with the contribution of the government, now have “the task of rebuilding it while safeguarding all the different faces and components that make it rich.”

“Listening to the Pope's speech, I must acknowledge that he was really wise in choosing his words, [which were] not only creative but went straight to the heart.” He looked “us in the eye, as if he had fully grasped our sufferings.”

“I think that to keep this memory and his visit alive and respect the demand of many people in Mosul, we could create an interfaith centre, working together for a better future. But to do this, even in terms of reconstruction, the government should make a contribution, but so far been this has been lacking.”

[*] Arabic acronym for Islamic State: ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah fī 'l-ʿIrāq wa-sh-Shām, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

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