Pope Francis already inspired the beleaguered Christian community in Iraq by prioritizing them for his first trip, starting on March 5, since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down travel. While most Iraqi Christians are Chaldean Catholics in communion with the Vatican since the sixteenth century, other denominations share in the excitement. Many Christians in Iraq hope that the world’s attention on them, even if just for a few days, will shine a light on the reality of their precarious situation.
In 2014, the world watched as the so-called Islamic State swept through the Nineveh Plains of Iraq, targeting Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities. The terrorists killed thousands and committed unspeakable atrocities that governments later designated as genocide. These crimes included beheadings, torture, kidnapping, sexual violence, and even crucifixions. Over two million fled, mostly to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, as ISIS built its Islamist caliphate that eventually included 40 percent of the country and a third of Syria.