(Vatican Radio) Three French bishops visited the Christian communities affected by the ongoing conflict and unrest in Iraq last week. Their four-day trip included stops in Karakosh, Alqosh, Kirkuk and Erbil.
Among those they met were numerous Christians who fled Mosul last month, following the threats of Islamic extremists to either convert to Islam, pay a tax or be killed.
Speaking with Vatican Radio upon his return to France on Friday, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, archbishop of Lyons, said he was moved by the joyful welcome of these communities, despite the difficulties they have lived and everything they have lost. Iraqi Christians have been persecuted for centuries, he added.
He remarked on their witness to their faith in Jesus Christ and noted that none of the Christians who fled Mosul were killed by the Islamists.
In four days, the French bishops met with 50 people in a school, about 200 people in a chapel and more than 1,000 people in a cathedral. They also met with Iraqi Christians, several times per day, in various centres in each of these cities. The Cardinal said he listened to their stories and was strengthened by their witness.
He said Christians in Iraq felt they had been forgotten but were encouraged by the visit of the French bishops, as well as by the demonstrations that were organized in France in a show of support for Christians in Iraq.
French Catholics have also organized a special collection for refugees who fled from Mosul. Cardinal Barbarin said he met with Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, who was himself exiled from Mosul but whose ministry now consists of visiting his dispersed flock.
Listen to the report by Laura Ieraci: