Pope Francis prayed on Sunday for “victims of war” outside a centuries-old church in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, heavily damaged by the Islamic State group ravaged one of the world’s oldest Christian communities until the jihadists’ defeat three years ago.
The 84-year-old said the exodus of Christians from Iraq and the broader Middle East “does incalculable harm not just to the individuals and communities concerned, but also to the society they leave behind.”
With the crumbling stone walls of the Al-Tahera (Immaculate Conception) Church behind him, Pope Francis made a plea for Christians in Iraq and the Middle East to stay in their homelands.
The pontiff said the “tragic” exodus of Christians from war-scarred Iraq and the wider region “does incalculable harm not just to the individuals and communities concerned, but also to the society they leave behind”.
The IS onslaught forced hundreds of thousands of Christians in northern Iraq’s Nineveh province to flee. Iraq’s Christian population has shrunk to fewer than 400,000 from around 1.5 million before the US-led invasion of 2003.
The faithful had gathered on Sunday in the courtyard of the Al-Tahera Church, whose roof collapsed during fighting against IS in 2017.
It is one of the oldest of at least 14 churches in Nineveh province that were destroyed by IS