Why is Pope Francis visiting Mosul's Church Square?

The pontiff will pray for humanity in Mosul's Old City that suffered immensely under ISIS

Members of the Iraqi security forces stand guard ahead of the planned visit of Pope Francis to Iraq, in Baghdad, Iraq March 4, 2021. REUTERS/Teba Sadiq
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Pope Francis will pray for humanity in Mosul city on Sunday as part of his historic religious pilgrimage across Iraq.

The pontiff will say prayers for victims of ISIS and war at Al Tahera Church in the northern city’s Church Square, which is surrounded by several places of worship used by Iraq’s different Christian denominations.

Syriac Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Chaldean Catholic churches can be found in and around the small square that is locked in by low-rise houses in Mosul’s Old City.

As a Papal visit approaches, Iraqi Christians still worry for their safety

As a Papal visit approaches, Iraqi Christians still worry for their safety

Al Tahera is a symbol of the diversity that has been the story of Mosul for centuries and represents Iraq’s once-flourishing Christian community.

Now the area lies in ruins, as do other parts of the city after ISIS took over in 2014. The brutal nine-month battle fought by the Iraqi army to retake it also meant the city paid a heavy price.

"The prayer will be for all the suffering caused by violence and hatred," Dominican Father Olivier Poquillon told The National.

“In conducting the trip, in the middle of the rubble, the Pope is paying a visit to a suffering member of the human family – that is the key message,” he said.

Fr Olivier is overseeing the reconstruction of Al Saa’a Monastery, known as the Conventual Church of Our Lady of the Hour, situated in the Old City. The building was damaged by ISIS in December 2017.

“It is a prayer from Iraq to all the suffering caused by violence and sickness and it is also a sign of mercy of God for all of humanity,” Fr Olivier said.

Christians are hesitant to return to Mosul because of the postwar situation as well as lack of trust in the government to provide them with the protection they need.

But Fr Olivier said the visit puts the question of return back on the table.

“If the Pope is coming then many should be able to come,” he said

Reverend Karam Shamasha of Nineveh said the visit will be highly symbolic and will send a message of hope to all Iraqis and especially the country’s Christian community.

"In 2014, Mosul, for the first time, was empty of Christians," Rev Shamasha told The National.

Mosul is the Iraqi city after Baghdad and Basra that had the largest number of Christians but after ISIS their numbers dwindled, he said.


“We never ever thought about creating conflict or doing wrong by our country. Instead we received years of conflict and persecution,” he said.

Rev Shamasha hopes the visit will educate the international community about Christianity’s deep roots in Iraq.

“The visit will open a new page for Christians in Iraq, to change the public’s views about the religion. During his prayer he will not pray for Christians but for all of Mosul to rebuild again and unite,” he said.

It is an encouragement for Christians to return home and for the Pope to be close to his followers in the country.

“He wants to say that ‘I support them and I want to be close to those who have been persecuted and to give them hope.”