Pope revives hope among Christians in Basra

Hussam Yaqoub, a Christian in Basra, has watched his community shrink over the years.

But Iraqi Christians still basking in the joy of Pope Francis visiting their country are hoping it marks a new dawn for the persecuted community.

Yaqoub, spokesman of Basra and South Chaldean Archdiocese, is trying to rebuild what is left of the Christian community.

"The Pope asked Christians to go back to Iraq but the issue of return does not happen after one word. It needs a lot of measures for Christians to return. Before we make the Christians return, we have to protect the Christians in Iraq. They not only suffer from losing job opportunities and having their houses taken away from them, but also suffer from losing their identity."

There used to be 13 churches in the city now only six are open.

Iraq has one of the oldest Christian communities in the world.

But it fell to about 300,000 from about 1.5 million before the U.S. invasion and the Islamist militant violence that followed.

Student Rita Ari says the Pope’s visit made her proud of her heritage.

"The visit of the Pope was really beautiful and further raised the morale of Christian people. For me personally, my morale was very high. I became more confident, and I got more attached to the Church and the county. Each one of us has to get attached to his country no matter what happens and regardless of any side issues that may arise. The visit was joyful."

In Basra’s Saint Thomas Church officials have collected old artefacts from closed churches around the city and put them on display in a small exhibition.

Christians hope the Pope’s message that peace is more powerful than war last long after the memorabilia comes down.