ROME — Before returning to Rome from Iraq March 8, Pope Francis left $350,000 to assist families still suffering the impact of conflict or in dire straits because of the economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, said Cardinal Louis Sako, the Baghdad-based patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church.

The papal donation became public when Sako published his letter thanking Pope Francis for his early March visit to the country, which, he said, touched the hearts of all Iraqis, Christian and Muslim.

Speaking to Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Cardinal Sako said the Catholic bishops of the country had the “joyful” duty of helping families in the pope’s name without distinguishing between families of different religions or ethnic identities.

“The donation is a sign of just how real and concrete the pope’s love for the whole Iraqi people is,” the cardinal said.

The sum has been divided for distribution, he said, with $250,000 being distributed from Baghdad, $50,000 being handled by the Chaldean Church in Mosul and another $50,000 being distributed by the Syriac Catholic archdiocese that includes Qaraqosh, a town in the north visited by Pope Francis.

“We have already distributed 12,000 packages of food throughout the country,” Sako said March 31. Aid has reached families in Najaf, Basra, Kirkuk and Zakho.