The Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh) achieved its greatest victory in 2014 when its fanatic militants seized control of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. The group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ascended the minbar, or pulpit, of the historic Mosque of al-Nuri and declared the formation of a new caliphate. The Islamic State’s black standard was raised atop the mosque’s famous 150-foot-tall leaning minaret with the vow that it would never be lowered.
After al-Baghdadi’s declaration, a steady stream of jihadists began flowing into the Islamic State’s territories, which eventually grew to half the size of Syria and a third of Iraq. Untold misery was inflicted upon countless innocent Iraqis. The shocking displays of violence included genocide, ethnic cleansing, slavery, mass rapes, forced marriages, and the use of child soldiers. Public punishments were carried out in the form of beheadings, crucifixions, mutilations, and stoning.
When al-Baghdadi triumphantly announced the start of his caliphate in Mosul, he spurred his followers on with the promise that their sights were ultimately set upon subjugating Christian civilization: “You will conquer Rome,” he assured them.
Less than a decade later, on March 7th, the Bishop of Rome himself arrived in Mosul. The city was left completely in ruins after a nine-month-long battle to expel the Islamic State in July 2017. Against the backdrop of the hallowed-out shells of four churches at Hosh al-Bieaa (Church Square), Pope Francis said: “Our gathering here today shows that terrorism and death never have the last word. Even amid the ravages of terrorism and war, we can see, with the eyes of faith, the triumph of life over death.” In remarks that contrasted directly with those delivered by al-Baghdadi just a few years ago, the Pope continued: “we reaffirm our conviction that fraternity is more durable than fratricide, that hope is more powerful than hatred, that peace is more powerful than war.”
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