"Our gathering here today shows that terrorism and death never have the last word."
“Now is the time to rebuild and to start afresh, relying on the grace of God,” declared Pope Francis in the predominantly Christian town of Qaraqosh, in northern Iraq, on March 6. The pontiff urged those who have survived the terrorism to forgive their wrongdoers. The town was attacked by ISIS in 2014 and thousands fled. It was liberated in 2016.
After visiting the ruined old city of Mosul, the pontiff reached Qaraqosh by helicopter. The Christian city is nestled on the Nineveh Plain. A cheering crowd awaited him. In an armored sedan, he stopped several times to bless children, before arriving at the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
The Pope immediately gave thanks to the Lord for the opportunity to be in these places. “I have looked forward to this time together,” he said.
The Immaculate Conception church is a Syriac Catholic Church.
“Our gathering here today shows that terrorism and death never have the last word,” the pope declared. “The last word belongs to God and to his Son, the conqueror of sin and death. Even amid the ravages of terrorism and war, we can see, with the eyes of faith, the triumph of life over death.”
“This is the time to restore not just buildings but also the bonds of community that unite communities and families,” he added, “the young and the old together.”
The cultural and religious diversity of the people of Qaraqosh, he said, shows “something of the beauty that this entire region holds out to the future.”
Your presence here is a reminder that beauty is not monochrome, but shines forth in variety and difference.
Do not lose hope!
But to restore the bonds between communities, it is necessary that those who survived the terrorist attacks can come to forgive, the pope said. Forgiveness is a “key word,” he said, making reference to the testimony of a mother who shared her effort to forgive after her son was killed.
Forgiveness is necessary to remain in love, to remain Christian. The road to a full recovery may still be long, but I ask you, please, not to grow discouraged. What is needed is the ability to forgive, but also the courage not to give up. I know that this is very difficult. But we believe that God can bring peace to this land. We trust in him and, together with all people of good will, we say “no” to terrorism and the manipulation of religion.
The pontiff also encouraged them not to forget who they are and where they come from. He urged them to protect the bonds that unite them and to protect their roots.
Do not forget who you are and where you come from! Do not forget the bonds that hold you together! Do not forget to preserve your roots!
The Pope also warmly thanked the mothers and women of Iraq, “women of courage who continue to give life, in spite of wrongs and hurts.“
“May women be respect and protected! May they be shown respect and provided with opportunities,” he urged.
At the end of his speech, the Pope left for Hariri Stadium in Erbil where he will celebrate Sunday Mass at 4 p.m. local time, the final stage of this apostolic journey. He departs for Rome on Monday morning.