‘Kurdistan Region is home to displaced Christians,’ Pope tells Kurdish leader in Erbil
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Pope Francis thanked the Kurdistan Region for giving sanctuary to displaced Christians, telling former Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani that the autonomous region is home to those who fled Islamic State militants in Iraq.
Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Masrour Barzani and President Nechirvan Barzani received Pope Francis on Sunday morning at Erbil International Airport as part of the pope’s apostolic trip to Iraq.
Francis’ Iraqi Airlines flight landed early on Sunday from Baghdad to an eager crowd of religious leaders from the different faiths in the Kurdistan Region. Children were lined up to greet the pope with olive branches and songs in Kurdish and Italian, one of the languages the Argentina-born pope favors.
“You have protected the Christians when ISIS attacked,” Pope Francis told Barzani in the meeting, describing the Kurdistan Region as a “home for displaced Christians.”
Francis met with other top officials, including Masoud Barzani, the former president of the Region and current leader of the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).
In his meeting with the pope, the current president Nechirvan Barzani affirmed that the Region is “for peace and dialogue” and has a deep belief in peaceful coexistence and religious diversity.
The KDP leader, before Pope’s plane touched down, tweeted his “warm welcome” of the pontiff, describing his visit as “historic, carrying the noble message of peaceful co-existence.”
I warmly welcome His Holiness, @Pontifex to Kurdistan. His holiness's visit to Iraq and the Kurdistan Region is indeed historic, carrying the noble message of peaceful co-existence.— Masoud Barzani (@masoud_barzani) March 7, 2021
“We stand together in defense of religious freedom and diversity – a creed that has been practiced here and beyond for generations,” Prime Minister Masrour Barzani tweeted following the pope’s visit to Erbil, adding that the defense of diversity was recently demonstrated by “the Peshmerga heroes who restored the crucifix above churches across the Nineveh Plains,” referring to the liberation of Christian-populated areas at the hands of Peshmerga forces.
Today, we stand together in defense of religious freedom and diversity - a creed that has been practiced here and beyond for generations, more recently by the Peshmerga heroes who restored the crucifix above churches across the Nineveh Plains -mb. #PopeInKurdistan— Masrour Barzani پابەندین# (@masrour_barzani) March 7, 2021
As part of his historic three-day trip to Iraq and Kurdistan Region, the pontiff is set to return to Erbil on Sunday afternoon to hold a Mass for nearly 10,000 attendees at Franso Hariri Stadium following events in Mosul’s Old City and Qaraqosh.
Editing by Joanne Stocker-Kelly