Pope Francis’ message from Karakoch, stronghold of Christianity in Iraq

Pope Francis upon his arrival at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Karakoch (Iraq) on March 7, 2021.

On the third day of his visit to Iraq, Sunday March 7, Pope Francis finally met the crowd. She was there when her armored car passed by, when she arrived at noon in Karakoch, a city that was 95% Christian when the Islamic State organization (IS) seized it in the summer of 2014. Throughout the streets, the inhabitants were gathered to welcome him. When he entered the Church of the Immaculate Conception, the ululations were equal to the jubilation. Several hundred people crowded in traditional costumes, and enthusiasm ignored any sanitary distance.

Partly destroyed in the war against ISIS, the church is very dapper today. Inaugurated in 1948, it is the pride of the city. “The inhabitants themselves supplied and worked the stones, bricks, lime”, testifies Father Ephrem, Dominican from the vineyard who founded the association Entre deux rives, which intervenes in the field of education.

Read also Pope Francis in northern Iraq, on land scarred by jihadists

The work was supposed to last until Easter, but the announcement of Pope Francis’ arrival three months ago has accelerated it dramatically. “ People worked hard to finish the restoration ”, adds the religious. The sub-prefect had the city cleaned and decorated and the (Muslim) governor of Mosul, who has a house here, got things done.

” Of love “

“You are not alone!  », Declared Pope Francis to the Christians of Iraq, in Karakoch (Iraq), on March 7, 2021. “You are not alone!  », Declared Pope Francis to the Christians of Iraq, in Karakoch (Iraq), on March 7, 2021.

At the end of the occupation of the locality by the IS, in November 2016, it was far from having this impeccable appearance. “There were traces of burning, the altar was broken and the yard had become a Daesh firing range and bullets were still there”, testifies the Dominican. Even today, the back wall is raw. Under the impact of thousands of bullets, the stone coating disappeared to reveal the reinforced concrete. Of one of the columns, only scrap is left.

“We hope people will be better after he comes. We have to live with Muslims as brothers and it’s not easy, ”says Andy, 27

Andy waited hours for the Pope to arrive in the church. On his thirty-one, the young man of 27 fervently hopes for one thing from Pope Francis: ” of love “. In 2014, when IS arrived, he fled with his family 70 km away, to Ankawa, the Christian quarter of Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan. It was there that he completed his pharmacy studies; he now works at the Karakoch hospital. When he returned in 2017, his family’s house was destroyed. They rebuilt part of it. “We hope that people will be better after his arrival, he said. We have to live with Muslims as brothers and it is not easy. They are now more numerous in Karakoch. “

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