Pope Francis thanks Kurdistan Region for warm welcome

Pope Francis greets crowds dressed in traditional clothing upon his arrival at Erbil International Airport, March 7, 2021. (Photo: AFP/Safin Hamed)
Pope Francis greets crowds dressed in traditional clothing upon his arrival at Erbil International Airport, March 7, 2021. (Photo: AFP/Safin Hamed)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) - Pope Francis on Wednesday thanked both officials and citizens of the autonomous Kurdistan Region over social media for their warm welcome on Sunday during his three-day historical visit to multiple cities across Iraq. 

The final stop of the pontiff’s trip was the regional capital of Erbil, where he said Mass for an estimated 10,000 attendees at Franso Hariri Stadium, named for an assassinated Christian politician and former governor of Erbil.

Pope Francis’ Twitter account read, in Arabic and English, read, “a message of fraternity came from Erbil,” where he was received by Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Masrour Barzani and President Nechirvan Barzani upon landing.

“I thank the dear Kurdish population for their warm welcome,” he added.

During a meeting with Kurdish leaders on Sunday, Pope Francis told them, “You have protected the Christians when ISIS attacked,” and further described the Kurdistan Region as a “home for displaced Christians.”

During the meeting Ano Abdoka, the Kurdistan Region’s Minister for Transportation and Communication, himself a Christian, showed a cross to the Pope that represents the others of their faith in the Kurdistan Region and spoke of the role of Peshmerga fighters who fought against the Islamic State.

Afterward, Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Masoud Barzani presented a Peshmerga statue to the religious leader as a gift.

Before Francis’ plane touched down on Kurdistan Region soil, Barzani had previously tweeted a “warm welcome” to him, characterizing the visit as “historic, carrying the noble message of peaceful co-existence.”

“I have been humbled today by the warmth and joy of our people and visitors lining the streets to welcome His Holiness Pontifex,” tweeted Prime Minister Masrour Barzani at the conclusion of the trip, making a point to thank security personnel, volunteers, churches, community leaders, and municipal workers for their significant efforts.

He underlined that Pope Francis’s message of “love and forgiveness, and the mass in Erbil today, reaffirm our sacred obligation to care for the poor and the marginalized, the oppressed and the persecuted.”

He also added in another social media post that Kurdistan Region authorities “stand together in defense of religious freedom and diversity – a creed that has been practiced here and beyond for generations.”

He added that 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 the Kurdish forces.

More on Pope Francis' visit to Iraq, the Kurdistan Region:

‘Kurdistan Region is home to displaced Christians,’ Pope tells Kurdish leader in Erbil

Christian exodus from Iraq, Middle East does ‘incalculable harm,’ pope says in Mosul

Pope Francis leads prayer in ancient Iraqi city of Ur; condemns religious extremism

At meeting with Pope Francis, Sistani says nation’s Christians ‘should live, like all Iraqis, in peace and security’

Editing by John J. Catherine