QARAQOSH, Iraq — Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, visiting from the patriarchate in Beirut, led about 20,000 Christians through the streets of Qaraqosh Palm Sunday, March 28.

Younan told the faithful that the Syriacs of Qaraqosh “are the pupils in the eyes of our Syriac Church. You are the best lung in which our Syriac Church breathes, this lung that exudes faith, preaches goodness, and invites us all to renew our hope in the Lord Jesus in the midst of difficulties and challenges, for he is the one who says, ‘Do not be afraid.'”

Younan referred to Pope Francis’ early March visit to Qaraqosh as a “wedding.”

“Today is your feast … that follows the wedding that Qaraqosh witnessed, and you were the heroes of this wedding when you received His Holiness, Pope Francis … as the messenger of peace and brotherhood, love and tolerance for Iraq,” the patriarch said.

About 60 percent of Qaraqosh’s 50,000 Syriac Catholic residents have returned from their exile in the Kurdistan region to their homes, which had been destroyed and burned by the Islamic State group and repaired with the help of Catholic organizations.

“There are many brothers and sisters” who are absent from “their beloved Qaraqosh,” Younan said, noting that thousands of families had left Iraq. “But they are with you and with us today in this joy that fills your hearts.”

The previous day, Younan celebrated Mass outdoors at the cathedral in Irbil. On the feast of the Annunciation, he consecrated Al-Tahera Syriac Catholic Church, where Pope Francis had visited. It had been burned and desecrated by Islamic State militants.