By Linda Bordoni
Amid the rubble of a church destroyed by conflict and fanaticism, Pope Francis on Sunday led prayers for victims of war and terrorism in Iraq's battle-scarred city of Mosul.
Mosul, in the north of the country, is home to many Iraqi Christian communities who suffered at the hands of so-called Islamic State fighters from 2014 to 2017. Before that it was ravaged by the war led by the US-led coalition in 2003.
UNESCO Director in Iraq, Paolo Fontani, heads efforts to implement projects in the archeology and heritage sector, aiming to preserve ancient Iraqi history.
Among the UNESCO projects is the “Initiative to Revive the Spirit of Mosul,” the restoration of the Old City of Basrah and of the Citadel of Erbil.
Speaking to Vatican News’ Massimiliano Menichetti who is travelling in Iraq with Pope Francis, Fontani explained UNESCO has been in Mosul for two years and is trying to rebuild after the destruction wreaked by terrorism and war. He said the Pope’s message of human fraternity is a reality in Mosul where Christians and Muslims are working together:
Fontani explained that in the work UNESCO is doing in Iraq and in cities like Mosul there is a strong focus on religious heritage, with many reconstructions projects dedicated to churches, mosques and minarets.
As regards Mosul, he said, “These are symbols of the city. For us it is not just a matter of stones: it’s a matter of people, it’s a matter of identity, and it’s a matter of culture.”
“What we want is to bring back,” he added, “are those crossroads of civilizations, cultures and religions” that were part of Mosul’s identity for many hundreds of years.
Fontani said Pope Francis’ visit to Mosul also has symbolic value as does the reconstruction efforts that are ongoing in Mosul.
He highlighted how the Pope is “bringing the hope that everybody can work together in a spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood in order to rebuild the city that needs a lot of support.”
On our part, he concluded, “we are trying to transform the message of human fraternity into a message” for people who are working together every day: “We have Christians and Muslims working together in the re-construction of the city, of their houses, in the reconstruction of a religious heritage. I think that’s the most important message we are working on today.”
UAE Minister of Culture and UNESCO welcome Pope's visit to Mosul
Following the Pope's vist to to the site of Al Tahera Church in Mosul, a United Arab Emirates Minister and the Director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization signed a joint statement upholding the Holy Father's message of peace and fraternity.
UAE Minister of Culture and Youth, Noura Al Kaabi, and Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, described the Pope's visit to Al Tahera Church, one of the sites of the “Revive the Spirit of Mosul” initiative, as sending a strong global message, saying that "harmony and cohesion between the followers of all religions is the only way for the advancement and progress of humanity, and the most effective means by which to address the increasing challenges facing the world."
In the statment they "stressed the importance of the Pope’s visit to the site of the project in spreading the message of peace and fraternity and highlighted the strength and resilience of humanity in countering the divisive message spread by the group responsible for destroying the Al Nouri Mosque, the Al Saa’a and Al Tahera Churches."
They added that the Pope’s visit to the project site was "a source of inspiration to those engaged in the rehabilitation efforts and provides strong impetus to efforts aimed at establishing peace and harmony in Iraq, the region and the world."