QARAQOSH (IRAQ): Pope Francis has arrived at a church in the Christian Iraqi town of Qaraqosh, once occupied by the Islamic State group.
A jubilant, ululating maskless crowd lined the main thoroughfare to welcome him as his motorcade slowly passed, heading to the church. Francis rolled down the window and waved to the crowd from his armored car, which was surrounded by Iraqi and Vatican security forces.
Francis is visiting the community on the Nineveh Plains where only a fraction of families have returned after fleeing the IS onslaught in 2014. He will hear testimonies from residents and pray in the Church of the Immaculate Conception, which was believed to have been torched by IS and has been restored in recent years.
Organizers said some 600 people were expected inside the church, one of the largest indoor crowds Francis has seen in Iraq amid a spike of COVID-19 infections. Vatican and Iraqi church organizers had said social distancing and other anti-coronavirus measures would be enforced, but on Sunday caution and masks appeared to have given way to sheer enthusiasm that a pope was finally in Iraq.
Chaldean Catholic Patriarch, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako said Francis’ visit to Iraq was “miraculous” and had already borne fruits. Speaking to reporters in the Qaraqosh church courtyard he said: “Now everyone talks about Christians!”