Rome Newsroom, Mar 4, 2021 / 07:20 am (CNA).- Iraqi Catholics have asked Pope Francis to bless a statue of the Virgin Mary that was desecrated by the Islamic State.
The Marian statue was decapitated in the Christian village of Karamles, between Mosul and Erbil, during the Islamic State’s occupation of the villages in the Nineveh Plains from 2014 to 2017.
Fr. Samir Sheer, director of Radio Mariam in Erbil, told the Italian news agency SIR that the statue remains “without hands because they were cut off by the terrorists.”
“Originally the statue was also without a head, which was recovered and reattached. In these hours its restoration is being completed,” he said.
Pope Francis is expected to bless the statue of Our Lady during a stadium Mass in Erbil on March 7.
“After the blessing, the statue will return to the Nineveh Plains. The hope of local Christians is that Our Lady will soon return to hug her children in Karamles,” Sheer said.
During Pope Francis’ March 5-8 trip to Iraq, the pope will visit churches that were sites of terrorist violence.
On his first day, he will meet with Iraqi Catholics in Baghdad inside the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation, also known as Sayidat al-Nejat, the site of a suicide attack by the Islamic State during Sunday Mass in 2010 in which more than 50 people were killed.
Terrorists killed two priests and took more than 100 hostages before Iraqi security forces stormed the church with the support of U.S. forces. The beatification process of the 48 Catholics who died inside the church advanced from the diocesan phase to the Vatican in October 2019.
Pope Francis will visit the Syriac Catholic Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Bakhdida, also known as Qaraqosh, on March 8.
The cathedral was desecrated and its interior charred after the Islamic State set it aflame after taking control of the town in 2014. Restoration of the cathedral was recently completed by Aid to the Church in Need. A new Marian statue sculpted by a local Christian artist was placed atop the bell tower in January.
In Mosul, the pope will pray for the victims of war in Iraq at Hosh al-Bieaa, a square surrounded by four churches of different Christian rites and denominations — Syriac Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Chaldean Catholic — all of which were either damaged or destroyed during the Islamic State occupation.
Pope Francis sent a video message to the Iraqi people the day before his departure for Baghdad.
In the message, the pope said that he felt “honored to meet a martyr Church,” and expressed gratitude to Christians in Iraq “who have witnessed to their faith in Jesus in the midst of very hard trials.”
“You still have in your eyes the images of destroyed houses and desecrated churches, and in your heart the wounds of affections left behind and abandoned houses,” he said.
“I would like to bring you the affectionate caress of the whole Church, which is close to you and to the tormented Middle East and encourages you to move forward.”