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Pope Francis Prayed amid Ruined Churches in Iraq

Pope Francis has visited parts of northern Iraq that were held by Islamic State (IS) militants on the third day of his historic trip to the country.

Christians were among those targeted by IS when they seized the region in 2014, carrying out human rights abuses.

The Pope prayed among ruined churches in Mosul, the former IS stronghold, before meeting Christians in Qaraqosh.

Celebrating Mass at a stadium in Irbil, the last big set piece of his visit, he said Iraq would remain in his heart.

Thousands of people attended the service despite Covid concerns.

Iraq, which has seen more than 13,500 deaths with Covid-19 and more than 726,000 cases, has recorded a sharp rise in infections over the past month.

 The 84-year-old leader of the Catholic Church and his entourage have all been vaccinated, but Iraq only received its first batch of doses last week.

The four-day trip, which began on Friday, is the pontiff’s first international excursion since the start of the pandemic more than a year ago, and the first ever papal visit to the country.

In Mosul he visited Church Square to pray for the victims of the war with the Islamic State group, which left thousands of civilians dead.

Surrounded by the tottering ruins of the square’s four churches, he said the exodus of Christians from Iraq and the broader Middle East had done “incalculable harm not just to the individuals and communities concerned but also to the society they leave behind”.