Surrounded by the relics of violence, war, and terrorism, Pope Francis Sunday told the Christian community of Iraq that they’re proof in flesh and blood of the victory of life over death.
Speaking to a crowd that saw its girls and women sold as property by Islamic State terrorists, and on the eve of International Women’s Day, the pope gave a “heartfelt thank-you to all the mothers and women of this country, women of courage who continue to give life, despite the wrongs and hurts.”
“May women be respected and protected,” he said. “May they be shown respect and provided with opportunities.”
On Friday’s flight from Rome to Iraq, Pope Francis was hand-delivered documents from ISIS that detailed the price of women during their reign of terror in Iraq and Syria, between 2013 and 2017.
Recovered by the papal charity Aid to the Church in Need, they show that a woman over 40 had a “cost” of $42, while $173 would “buy” a girl between one and nine.
The price list in Arabic and English equated “markets” of women and cattle, regretting that both had “sharply decreased” which “will affect Islamic State revenues as well as the funding of the fighters in the battlefield, therefore, we have made some changes,” before listing “updated” prices for Yazidi and Christian women slaves.
“Customers are allowed to purchase only three items with the exception of [items] from Turkey, Syria and the Gulf Countries,” rules to be obeyed, according to the ISIS document, under threat of death.
It’s possible the Pope had this “price list” in mind when he heard the story of Doha Sabah Abdallah, a woman from Qaraqosh, who lost her young son when a mortar fell in the city several days before ISIS arrived.
She said they had left the city, fleeing the first attempts from ISIS to invade the Qaraqosh. But, three days later, everyone returned, because “being Christians, we are ready for martyrdom.”
Yet, on the morning of August 6, 2014, a mortar shell killed her small son and his cousin, as well as a young neighbor who was preparing for marriage.
“The martyrdom of these three angels was a clear warning. Were it not for that, the people of Baghdad would have remained and would inevitably have fallen into the hands of ISIS,” she said. “The death of the three saved the entire city.”
The pope picked up on Sabah’s call for forgiveness.
“Forgiveness — that’s a key word,” he said. “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.”
“We trust in God and, together with all people of goodwill, we say ‘no to terrorism and the manipulation of religion,” he said, repeating a request that has become the mantra of the trip.
History is reflected in the war-pocked face of Qaraqosh, a mostly Christian town on the Nineveh Plain that boasted 50,000 inhabitants before ISIS, 90 percent of whom were Christian. Most were forced to flee towards Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan, leaving behind their homes and belongings.