Mosul (VG) has left its mark on Mosul in Iraq for three years of IS’s brutal terrorist rule. During a historic visit on Sunday, Pope Francis advised for peace.
In the ruins of a church, we stand with the brick houses around us. Bullet holes and split damage in church walls pepper.
– We got a final warning. Convert to Islam, flee or beheaded.
Sadullah Rasam, 60, a Christian, talks about the dramatic July 2014. I.S. Levant advanced and captured the city. A few days ago, IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took the stage in the million-strong city of Mosul and declared himself the head of his own state, the Islamic State (IS).
It was not long before Russ and other Christians were evicted from their homes.
– Initially, they didn’t kill anyone here. They said they were the Islamic State, but it was only a mask before they could show their true nature. He says they would have killed me if I had not escaped.
To get to Mosul this Sunday, the VG20 had to cross roadblocks, with heavy armed police and soldiers at every street corner. The security call is huge, and a curfew order has been introduced. Only journalists and police can go outside. Then the Pope who comes to visit, then.
As the pope marches, 24 young women in white dresses wave Iraqi flags. Iraqi special police are stationed on the roofs and in the alleys around it.
Pope Francis gets out of the car, looks around the church ruins around him, and enters the stage to cheer from the audience. Pope Francis, Pope Francis, Roper de Unison.
– We will not kill anyone for one God because God does not believe in killing others. Despite the differences between religions, we are all equal in God’s view, he says.
Christians in Iraq have a long history and can trace their roots to the beginning of their faith. But minorities have long suffered. Under Saddam Hussein’s regime, they were protected, and there were about 1.5 million Christians in the country, but after the 2003 US invasion, they were persecuted. Both IS and Al Qaeda have done their part to drive Christians out of the city. There are now less than 250,000 throughout Iraq.
“The fact that Christians are leaving Iraq and the Middle East is causing irreparable damage, not only to individuals, but also to the community they are leaving,” the pope said in his speech. But peace is more powerful than war. We need to control the hatred between us, he continued.
Participants, mainly specially invited Christians, go on stage to get a better look as the Pope leaves the ruins. On the way out, the car stops and the Pope goes outside and greets Sadullah Rassam. The 60-year-old man kneels and kisses the pope’s hand.
– When I saw the Pope, the hairs on his arm were high. Even if he looks at me and smiles, I will cry for joy. Because I could not believe my eyes. “This is a historic day for Iraq,” he said.
The night before, he was awake and could not believe that the Pope was coming to see Mosul.
– I told the pope that I was the first Christian to return to Mosul after the city was recaptured by Iraqi forces.
When the 60-year-old returned home to Mosul, what he encountered after being displaced for three years was a hometown in the ruins.
– I was helpless because I knew I could do nothing. IS militants and destruction are beyond my control.
The war for Mosul was one of the worst since World War II, with tens of thousands killed. It should take a full eight months Mosul was recaptured.
The 60-year-old said he wanted to go home when Iraqi forces liberated his neighborhood in 2017. By then he had been displaced for three years.
– I love my surroundings, my house, but I found my house completely destroyed. I looked in my garage and saw there was a dead IS militant, he says.
Only 70 Christian families have returned to Mosul since the war.
– Coming here for the Pope is a reminder to the world that my city needs more support, he says.
Around: On Sunday, Pope Francis was chased around some parts of the church ruins.