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Christians in Iraq: Use the popemobile, Holy Father, we want to see you

Christians remember messages from Isis saying not even the pope could help them.

In 2014, Isis forced Christians out of the city of Baghdeda, which in Iraqi is known as Qaraqosh.

When they took it back in 2016, this is what they found.

Isis abandoned the city, and left terrible messages on the walls directed at Christians.
This priest remembers one in particular.

FR. AMMAR YAKO
Priest in Baghdeda (Iraq)
 “They said, you have your leader that is in the Vatican, he cannot do anything for you, don’t think that. The translation isn’t very good, I don’t remember the exact words”.

They also found the church of Al-Tahira, the Immaculate Conception, converted into a firing range.

But when the pope arrives here, he will see a very different sight.

Thanks to organizations such as ACN, Aid to the Church in Need, the church has been rebuilt.

The project was scheduled to end in May, but with the pope’s upcoming visit they managed to complete it sooner.

FR. AMMAR YAKO
Priest in Baghdeda (Iraq)
“None of us imagined that there would be this chance for Iraqis, especially Christians, especially the Qaraqoshian people from Baghdeda, that this would happen.”
 “It’s like a father visiting their son who really needs to see their father.”

The pope will spend only a few hours in this city of 23,000 residents, and where 50,000 people lived before Isis arrived.

They expect to welcome many people from surrounding towns for the pope’s visit.

But the church holds less than a thousand people, and they fear security measures will prevent people from seeing him up close.

FR. AMMAR YAKO
Priest in Baghdeda (Iraq)
“Many people have seen the Pope when he was around the people among him, so they are imagining that the picture will be the same here.”
 “For the people it will change them. For example, when I met him, I took a decision to change my name, and so I took Francis like a father”.

FR. AMMAR YAKO
Priest in Baghdeda (Iraq)
 “They told us he will come through the streets of Qaraqosh by car to the church. And we asked them if they can use the car of the pope that he uses, the white one… I don’t’ know, there is a special name for this car. To be open and the people can see him, directly. They told us, “no, we cannot do that.”
“We really asked them, please do that because it’s very important for us, because the people that are outside, they cannot see him…”

People say the pope’s reception will look like Palm Sunday. In recent weeks a team of 200 people has been preparing the streets of Baghdeda for the historic event.

FR. AMMAR YAKO
Priest in Baghdeda (Iraq)
 “Also the streets are decorated with the flags of the 2 countries, the Iraqi and the Vatican flags. We will be giving the people flags and spreading flowers, it will be something like a surprise in the Pope’s path.”

FR. AMMAR YAKO
Priest in Baghdeda (Iraq)
“We need to do for Irak of course many things to be a country of peace, and of course the important thing is to save Christianity in this country, because we really are in a time that is very very difficult, and if it continues like that of course, there will be no more Christianity in Iraq. And this is so sad”.

For Iraqi Christians the pope’s visit is a celebration, but it doesn’t overshadow their struggles: Christians are in danger of extinction in Iraq. Of the 1.4 million Christians in Iraq in 2003, only 250,000 remain. It’s a story of hardship in a land with biblical roots