Qaraqosh is home to Iraq’s largest church, dedicated to Mary’s Immaculate Conception. When ISIS took control of the city in August 2014, the church was vandalized, profaned, and burned. The bell tower was partially destroyed and statues beheaded, while pews were thrown to the courtyard, and the choir area used as a shooting range.
It was inside this recently-restored church that Pope Francis addressed the Christian community of Iraq.
“How much has been torn down!” the pope said. “How much needs to be rebuilt! Our gathering here today shows that terrorism and death never have the last word. 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.”
The pontiff acknowledged that there are moments when the faith can waver, “when it seems that God does not see or act … Do not stop dreaming! Do not give up! Do not lose hope! From heaven, the saints are watching over us.”
Mounir Jbrahil, a 61-year-old math teacher who fled Qaraqosh for Erbil in 2016, was able to rebuild his destroyed home in 2020. While he waited for Pope Francis, he told journalists, “Now it’s safer here. It’s great to see the pope, we never expected him to come to Qaraqosh. Maybe that will help rebuild the country, finally bringing love and peace.”
Father Ammar Yako, vicar general of the Syriac Catholics in Mosul, told the pope about how on the night ISIS approached the city where he was a priest, he found the God-given strength to help those who wanted to leave, staying behind as the terrorists were taking the city.
“Since that moment, we have faced a very difficult and very hard test: to live dispersed in the streets, squares, and public parks without shelter or food,” Yako said.
“With the strength of God, in our priestly service, we have been able to help families, to be with them, distribute food, clothing, and other aid. The three years we have lived as refugees are not ‘cursed yeas,’ but years of blessing from the Lord.”
“The Lord did not abandon us. It was a miracle to bring life back into this city, and here we are today!” he said.