Pope Francis has thanked the Kurdish people for their "warm welcome" following his historic trip to Iraq and the Kurdistan Region over the weekend, Rudaw reported.
"A fraternal message that came from Erbil, the city where I was received by the President of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq @IKRPresident, the Prime Minister, the authorities and the people. Once again, I thank the Kurdish people for their warm welcome," his Arabic-language account tweeted on March 10.
A message of fraternity came from Erbil as well, the city in which I was received by the President of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, @IKRPresident, and its Prime Minister, by the Authorities and by the people. I thank the dear Kurdish population for their warm welcome.— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) March 10, 2021
As part of the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, Pope Francis met with President Barzani and other senior Kurdish officials on March 7, when he arrived at Erbil's airport.
After visits to Qaraqosh and Mosul later that morning, the pope returned to the Kurdistan Region, driving through the predominantly Christian suburb of Ainkawa en route to Erbil's Franso Hariri Stadium.
The pope received a rapturous welcome at the stadium, where he held mass for 10,000 people and extended a "heartfelt welcome to the Kurdish people."
On March 10, the pontiff also addressed Christians who have left Iraq, calling on them to "keep the faith" and return home "if you can."
The Kurdistan Region hosts many Iraqi Christians who fled their homes when ISIS took control of Mosul and the Nineveh Plains in the summer of 2014. Many more have left Iraq altogether, with the number of Christians in Iraq currently estimated at 300,000, down from 1.5 million before 2003, according to Erbil's Chaldean Archbishop Warda.
Erbil and Mosul are “symbols of hope,” the White House Coordinator for Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk tweeted on March 10 with footage of the pope’s arrival at the mass in Erbil.
“Inspired by these joyous scenes of @Pontifex in Erbil, where so many from all faiths found life-saving refuge from ISIS over the summer of 2014.”
Inspired by these joyous scenes of @Pontifex in #Erbil where so many from all faiths found life-saving refuge from ISIS over the summer of 2014. As we approach the Easter season, Erbil and #Mosul are symbols of hope, renewal — and hard work ahead. https://t.co/hvCHxxyqFB— Brett McGurk (@brett_mcgurk) March 9, 2021