Pope Francis consoles father of drowned Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi

Meeting took place after Mass at Franso Hariri stadium in Erbil on Sunday

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Pope Francis set aside time during his busy schedule in Iraq on Sunday for a long conversation with the father of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian boy whose body washed ashore in Turkey after drowning during the family's flight from the Syria's civil war.

The heart-wrenching photo of the three-year-old's body lying face-down on a sandy beach shocked the world and shed the light on the plight of the Syrian refugees and migrants risking their lives on dangerous sea crossings to Europe.

Alan's mother and brother died with him when a people-smuggler's boat capsized off the coast of Turkey in September 2015.

Pope Francis speaks to Abdullah Kurdi, left, father of Alan Kurdi, a 3-year old Syrian boy who's image made headlines after he drowned in the Mediterranean Sea and drew global attention to Europe's refugee crisis, at the end of a mass at the Franso Hariri Stadium in Irbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Sunday, March 7, 2021. (Vatican Media via AP)
Pope Francis speaks to Abdullah Kurdi, whose son of Alan Kurdi drowned at the age of 3 when the family attempted a crossing to Europe in 2015, at the end of a Mass at the Franso Hariri Stadium in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, on March 7, 2021. Vatican Media via AP

Pope Francis met Abdullah Kurdi after celebrating Mass at the Franso Hariri stadium in Erbil on Sunday evening, on the third day of his visit to Iraq.

“The Pope spent a long time with him and with the help of an interpreter was able to listen to the pain of a father for the loss of his family,” the Holy See Press office said.

Pope Francis expressed “his and the Lord's deep participation in the man's suffering”, it said.

For his part, Alan's father thanked the pontiff for his closeness to the tragedy and to the pain of “all those migrants who seek understanding, peace and security, leaving their country at the risk of their lives,” it added.

Handout pictures for the encounter showed the father and the pope talking at the end of Mass in the Iraqi Kurdish city. In one picture, the father gifts the Pope a framed painting of Alan.

Francis left Iraq on Monday after visiting six cities in central, southern and northern Iraq, meeting local officials and members of the dwindling Christian community. It was the first visit to Iraq by the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

Through his stops in the capital, Baghdad, the Shiite shrine city Najaf, the ancient Mesopotamian city of Ur, war-devastated Mosul and Qaraqosh, and finally in Erbil, he delivered a message of peace and hope to all Iraqis.

Pope Francis meets Abdullah Kurdi, father of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old boy whose dead body was found washed up on a Turkish beach in 2015, in Erbil, Iraq, March 7, 2021.   Vatican Media/?Handout via REUTERS    ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Abdullah Kurdi holds a painting of his dead son Alan Kurdi that he presented to Pope Francis at their meeting in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, on March 7, 2021. Vatican Media via Reuters