Pope Francis calls for forgiveness during visit to Qaraqosh

During a moving speech the pontiff focused on forgiveness, love and patience

epa09058835 Pope Francis is welcomed by the Qaraqosh community during his visit at the Church of 'immaculate Conception' Qaraqosh, Iraq, 07 March 2021. Pope Francis began on 05 March a three-day official visit in Iraq, the first papal visit to this country affected throughout the years by war, insecurity and lately COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.  EPA/ALESSANDRO DI MEO

Thousands of ecstatic people packed the roadsides as Pope Francis visited the northern Iraqi town of Qaraqosh On Sunday.

The town is known to host the largest number of Christians in Iraq.

The pontiff's whirlwind tour, a three-day official trip and the first papal visit to the country, began on Friday.

Iraq has suffered years of war, insecurity and lately, the Covid-19 pandemic.

During a moving speech the Pope focused on forgiveness, love and patience.

“The road to a full recovery may still be long, but I ask you, please, not to grow discouraged,” he said from an ancient church torched by ISIS as it overran the town in 2014.

"What is needed is the ability to forgive, but also the courage not to give up."

Since the liberation from the extremists three years ago, the Al Tahera Church – or the church of the Immaculate Conception in English – has been extensively renovated.

It was vandalised by the terrorists during their takeover of the town, making it a symbol of recovery efforts.

“I know this is difficult but we believe that God can bring peace to this land. We say no to terrorism and the manipulation of religion,” said the Pope.

“The memory of the past shapes the present and leads us forward to the future,” he said.

After ISIS were ousted from the town in 2016, Al Tahera Church's imposing marble floors and columns were restored and the faithful gathered there on Sunday to welcome the pontiff.

He also reached out to mothers in Iraq and praised their courage.

“This is the time not just to restore buildings but the bonds of community. When the old and the young come together, the old dream of the future for the young,” he said.

“The young can take those dreams and make them a reality... I encourage you, don't forget who you are and where you come from. Do not forget to preserve your roots,” said the Pope.

Pope Francis's visit to Iraq, which was on its last day Sunday, aimed to encourage Christians to stay and help rebuild the country and restore what he called its “intricately designed carpet” of faith and ethnic groups.

“Even in the ravages of terrorism and war, we can see the triumph of life over death.”

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