Baghdad — Pope Francis on Sunday marked the final day of his historic pilgrimage to Iraq. The pope spoke at Mosul, once the stronghold of the, condemning ISIS terrorism while calling for forgiveness.
It was always against the odds: Pope Francis, defying extreme security risks to come to a country as dangerous as Iraq.
But Sunday marked the climax of the first-ever papal visit, with the pontiff setting foot in Mosul, a city once ransacked and ruled by ISIS, and while liberated now, is still war-torn.
“Hope is more powerful than hatred,” said the pontiff, inside what’s left of a church.
Then, off to Qaraqosh, a Christian town nearly annihilated by ISIS.
The Church of the Immaculate Conception was vandalized, desecrated, burned and even used as target practice by ISIS, who threatened to one day come to Rome. Now, it’s Pope Francis, the bishop of Rome, who has come to the church instead.
“I think that this is the message: The goal of the Holy Father to encourage people to stay here,” said Father George.
And finally, the capstone of his visit: Celebrating Mass in the stadium of Erbil, before thousands, many who escaped from ISIS, like one 24-year-old woman attending.
“We feel safe now,” she said.
But she doesn’t think she’ll ever feel safe moving back home to Mosul, where religious wounds run deep.