Christian, Muslim leaders in Mosul welcome pope

Mosul (Iraq), March 7

Christian and Muslim leaders in Mosul have welcomed Pope Francis’ visit to the Iraqi city devastated by war and are calling on Christians who fled the Islamic State group’s onslaught to return.

In a moving scene that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago, the pope mounted a stage in a city square surrounded by bombed-out churches and other buildings to deliver a message of peace and unity.

The Rev. Raed Kallo, the only priest in Iraq’s second largest city, shared his story among the crowd and before the pontiff. He fled along with most of his congregation of 500 Christian families when IS overran the city in June 2014.

But he said he returned three years ago, after the extremists were defeated by Iraqi and international forces in a gruelling campaign that left much of the city in ruins. He said: “My Muslim brothers received me after the liberation of the city with great hospitality and love.”        

But he said only around 70 Christian families reside in Mosul today. The rest are afraid to return and many have emigrated abroad.

Also addressing the crowd was Gutayba Aagha, a Muslim and the head of the Independent Social and Cultural Council for the Families of Mosul. In words welcomed by Francis, he said: “In the name of the council I invite all our Christian brothers to return to this, their city, their properties, and their businesses.” — AP

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