Iraqi bishops should continue helping Christians return to homeland despite challenges, Pope Francis says

Pope Francis has encouraged Catholic leaders from Iraq to continue helping displaced Christians return to their hometowns after the Islamic State occupation despite the discouragement and difficulties that they face.

(REUTERS / Ahmed Jadallah)Christians displaced from Nineveh Plains vote during Kurds independence referendum at the Ashti 2 refugee camp in Erbil, Iraq. September 25, 2017.

On Oct. 5, Pope Francis met with Catholic leaders from Iraq and remarked that there was still so much to do to help Christians and other minorities rebuild their lives and return to their homelands after the ISIS occupation. There were around 100,000 Christians who were forced to flee their homes in 2014 when the militant group overran the Nineveh Plains, and many have returned recently only to find their community in ruins, Crux detailed.

In addition, the pontiff called on Iraqi leaders to work in unity for the healing of their land and people. He said churchmen should also take active roles in facilitating dialogues between faith communities.

"I exhort you to work tirelessly as constructors of unity, above all among you pastors of the Chaldean church and with the pastors of other churches, favoring dialogue and collaboration among all the actors in public life, to contribute to facilitating the return of the expelled and to heal the divisions and disagreements among brothers," Pope Francis said last Thursday.

Persecution charity Aid to the Church in Need has launched the "Nineveh Plains Reconstruction Project" with the help of international donors to help displaced Christians return to their homes. So far, the project has allowed around 17 percent of the believers to go back to the area.

Last month, The Christian Times reported that almost 3,000 Christian families have returned to their hometown since the liberation of the Nineveh Plains. Dureid Hekmat, the governor's advisor for Christian affairs in Nineveh, remarked that the highest number of Christian family repatriations were seen in Hamadaniyah and Tel Saqf.

Iraq also announced that it aims to repatriate more than a million displaced people in Mosul before 2017 ends. The government also said it will launch offensives against ISIS hideouts in Anbar, Kirkuk, and Salahuddin.