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Pope Francis meets father of drowned Syrian boy whose death sparked global outrage

Pope Francis has met with the father of Alan Kurdi, a three-year old Syrian boy who drowned crossing the Mediterranean Sea in 2015 and whose image drew global attention to the plight of refugees fleeing to Europe.

Following a Mass on Sunday in the Iraqi city of Erbil, Francis met with Abdullah Kurdi and spent a long time with him, the Vatican said.

Through an interpreter, the Pope listened to Kurdi’s story and expressed sympathy for the loss of his family. Abdullah thanked the pontiff for his words.

The Kurdi family, who hail from Kobane in Syria, took the route of many Syrian and other migrants by sea in a small boat from Turkey heading for Greece. When their boat capsized, Alan Kurdi, one of his brothers and his mother perished.  The image of Alan’s body, washed up on Turkish shores, came to symbolize the perilous journey to Europe and drew international condemnation. The father now runs a charity in Erbil.

The Canadian government came under fire after it emerged the family had been trying to come to Canada with the help of a relative, Tima Kurdi, who lives in British Columbia.

Pontiff visits Mosul

Pope Francis was also in the Iraqi city of Mosul on Sunday, where he listened to Christian and Muslim residents recount their lives under brutal ISIS rule. Fighters of ISIS, a Sunni militant group that tried to establish a caliphate across the region, ravaged northern Iraq from 2014 to 2017, killing Christians as well as Muslims who opposed them.

Francis flew into the northern city by helicopter to encourage the healing of sectarian wounds and to pray for the dead of any religion.

The 84-year-old Pope saw ruins of houses and churches in a square that was the old town’s thriving centre before Mosul was occupied by ISIS from 2014 to 2017. He sat surrounded by skeletons of buildings, dangling concrete staircases and cratered ancient churches, most too dangerous to enter.

The Pope attends a prayer service Sunday for victims of war with the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, Najib Mikhael Moussa, left, at Hosh al-Bieaa Church Square in Mosul, Iraq. (Andrew Medichini/The Associated Press)

“Together we say no to fundamentalism. No to sectarianism and no to corruption,” the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, Najib Mikhael Moussa, told the Pope.

Francis, who is on a historic first trip by a pope to Iraq, was visibly moved by the earthquake-like devastation around him. He prayed for all of Mosul’s dead.

“How cruel it is that this country, the cradle of civilization, should have been afflicted by so barbarous a blow, with ancient places of worship destroyed and many thousands of people — Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and others — forcibly displaced or killed,” he said.

The Pope arrives to hold a minute of silence at what’s left of the centuries-old Al-Tahera (Immaculate Conception) Church near Hosh al-Bieaa Church Square in Mosul on Sunday. (Yara Nardi/Reuters)

“Today, however, we reaffirm our conviction that fraternity is more durable than fratricide, that hope is more powerful than hatred, that peace more powerful than war.”

Intense security has surrounded his trip to Iraq. Military pickup trucks mounted with machine guns escorted his motorcade, and plainclothes security men mingled in Mosul with the handles of guns emerging from black backpacks worn on their chests.

In an apparent direct reference to ISIS, Francis said hope could never be “silenced by the blood spilled by those who pervert the name of God to pursue paths of destruction.”

He then read a prayer repeating one of the main themes of his trip, that it is always wrong to hate, kill or wage war in God’s name.

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