MOSUL (New York Times) — On his third day in Iraq, Pope Francis visited a city reduced to rubble in the fight with the Islamic State, which had tortured followers of other faiths while it held control. Joyous crowds later welcomed him to Iraq’s Christian heartland.
Appearing on a brilliant red carpet against a backdrop of rubble and ruin, Pope Francis visited the once-vibrant Iraqi city of Mosul on Sunday, March 7, to illustrate the terrible cost of religious fanaticism, showing how, in that ravaged place, the price had been blood.
“How cruel it is that this country, the cradle of civilization, should have been afflicted by so barbarous a blow, with ancient places of worship destroyed,” he said. Thousands of Muslims, Christians and Yazidis, he said, “were cruelly annihilated by terrorism, and others forcibly displaced or killed.”
On his last full day of a visit aimed at promoting harmony among people of different faiths, as well as offering support to a Christian community often persecuted since the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the pope’s visit to Mosul seemed to dispel any notion that his words had been mere abstractions.
All around the 84-year-old pontiff were physical reminders of the worst that people can do to one another.
It stood in contrast to the highlight of his travels on Saturday, when he met with the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the revered Shiite cleric. Sitting on wooden chairs in an unadorned room in the southern city of Najaf, the two men had a quiet conversation described by aides as focused on what religious leaders can do to stop violence done in the name of religion.