In Mosul, Pope releases dove and prays for dead

Welcomed by crowds waving Iraqi and Vatican flags, singing in celebration, Pope Francis arrived in the ancient city of Mosul on Sunday (March 7) on the last leg of his Iraq trip aimed at boosting morale among the country's beleaguered Christian population.

The 84-year-old pope walked past ruins of houses and churches to Hosh al-Bieaa, known as Church Square in English, a square that was once the thriving centre of the old town.

The red carpet lining his path was set amongst the rubble. The northern city was occupied by Islamic State from 2014 to 2017. He heard testimonies from Muslim and Christian residents about their lives under the brutal rule of the militants and he blessed their vow to rise up from the ashes.

Francis then read a prayer repeating one of the main themes of his trip, the first by a pope to Iraq, that it is always wrong to hate, kill or wage war in God's name.

The pope, visibly moved by the devastation around him, also prayed for all of Mosul's dead.

He observed a moment of silence for those killed in the violence from a golf cart, which then circled around the ruins.