(AP) -- QARAQOSH, Iraq – Pope Francis called on Iraq's Christians to forgive the injustices committed against them by Muslim extremists and to rebuild as he visited the wrecked shells of churches and met ecstatic crowds in the community's historic heartland, which was nearly erased by the Islamic State group's horrific reign.
At each stop in northern Iraq, the remnants of its Christian population turned out, jubilant, ululating, decked out in colorful dress, though heavy security prevented Francis from plunging into the crowd as he would normally do. Nonetheless, they seemed simply overjoyed that they had not been forgotten.
It was a sign of the desperation for support among an ancient community uncertain whether it can hold on. Traditionally Christian towns dotting the Nineveh Plains of the north were emptied as Christians — as well as many Muslims — fled the Islamic State group's onslaught in 2014. Only a few have returned to their homes since the defeat of IS in Iraq declared four years ago, and the rest remain scattered elsewhere in Iraq or abroad.
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