Qaraqosh shows Pope Francis the wounds of three years of persecution

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The second part of the pope's pilgrimage through Iraq's martyred cities was in Qaraqosh, which Christians call Baghdeda. It's home to the country's largest Christian community.

The pope's meeting with the Christian community of Qaraqosh took place in the Church of the Immaculate Conception. Already outside the compound, the people's excitement could be felt.

Some of them carried the weight of past tragedies on their shoulders, and some survivors shared those experiences with the pope. The cameras barely showed their faces, but their voices could be clearly heard.

“That morning we were doing the usual things and the children were playing outside. I heard the sound of mortar shells and ran out of the house. The children's voices died away, while the adults' shouts grew louder. They told me that my son and his cousin were dead, as was our neighbor, a young girl who had been preparing for marriage. FLASH My faith tells me that my children are in the arms of Jesus Christ our Lord. And we, the survivors, try to pardon the aggressor, because our teacher Jesus forgave his executioners.”

Fr. Ammar Yako also recounted what it was like to leave his own home and escape with nothing but his life.

Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Mosul
“We have faced a very difficult trial: to live dispersed in the streets, squares and public parks, without shelter or food. We don't have enough time now to explain everything we experienced in three years as displaced people. FLASH But those three years during which we lived as refugees were not 'cursed' years. Rather, they were years blessed by the Lord.”

Pope Francis listened attentively to them. He was struck by their stories.

One thing that Doha said moved me deeply. She said that forgiveness is needed on the part of those who survived the terrorist attacks. Forgiveness. This is a key word. FLASH The road to a full recovery may still be long, but I ask you, please, not to grow discouraged.

The Church of the Immaculate Conception, where this meeting was held, was used as a firing range by fundamentalists. It was later rebuilt and has become a symbol and reminder that renewal is possible.

However, the church was not completely rebuilt. They didn't rebuild the area with the saint statues terrorists used for target practice. They left it untouched so that the walls riddled with bullet holes could stand as a silent witness of the event and as a sign that Christians forgive their attackers.

During the meeting, the Patriarch of Antioch for Syrian Catholics wanted to call attention to the organizations that helped with the reconstruction. That's why he acknowledged the Hungarian government, the Knights of Columbus and entities like Aid to the Church in Need, which contributed concretely to this church's restoration.

Javier Romero

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