Pope Francis sent his condolences on Saturday to an Iraqi Christian community in Qaraqosh, northern Iraq, that was devastated by a massive fire at a crowded wedding reception that killed over 100 and injured 150.
“His Holiness Pope Francis was deeply saddened to learn of the devastating effects of the fire in Qaraqosh, and he sends the assurance of his spiritual closeness to everyone affected by this tragedy,” said the letter, written by the Holy See’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
Francis visited the majority-Catholic city of Qaraqosh in 2021. It is one of the few surviving Christian communities in Iraq, following years of persecution and occupation at the hands of ISIS.
Following the deadly fire, the Holy Father sent his prayers to the deeply shaken community. “Entrusting the souls of the deceased to the loving mercy of almighty God, he sends heartfelt condolences to those who mourn their loss,” Parolin wrote.
Parolin also said the pope “offers prayers for the injured and for the relief efforts of the emergency personnel” and “upon all he invokes the divine blessings of consolation, healing, and strength.”
The Christian community in Qaraqosh, in Iraq’s Nineveh Plains, was devastated last week after a fire broke out at a Syriac Catholic wedding celebration. The wedding venue caught fire Tuesday night, quickly burning the building down and trapping many of the guests inside.
The Nineveh Province Deputy Gov. Hassan al-Allaf told Reuters on Sunday that 113 people were killed and 150 injured.
Women, children, and elderly were among the victims killed and injured during the blaze.
The injured have filled hospitals in the surrounding region while some have been flown out of the country for treatment. As of Monday, there are still many victims in critical condition.
Iraqi authorities are investigating the disaster. The country’s interior minister said the wedding hall lacked the required “safety and security specifications” and that those responsible would “get their fair punishment,” the BBC reported.
Video available on social media shows the moment that it appears indoor pyrotechnics used during the bride and groom’s dance caused the ceiling to catch fire. The fire spread rapidly, sending burning debris and heavy smoke down on the wedding guests within moments.
In a video statement to the U.K.’s SkyNews, the bride and groom, Revan Isho, 27, and Haneen, 18, addressed the disaster that took place on their wedding day.
“We are dead inside. We are numb,” Isho said. “I grabbed my wife and began to drag her. I kept dragging and trying to get her out of the kitchen entrance. As people were fleeing, people were trampling on her. Her legs are injured.”
“She’s lost 10 relatives,” Isho said of his wife. “Her loved ones, her mom, her brother, she can’t speak.”
Hundreds from the community gathered to hold mass funerals the day after the wedding and on Friday.
Archbishop Benedict Younan Hanno, the Syriac Catholic archbishop of Mosul and its dependencies, told EWTN News on Wednesday that “the situation today is very tragic.”
“These people who died were from my parish,” Hanno said, explaining that more than 80 of the Christian families in the town lost loved ones.
“I hope that efforts will be intensified in helping the injured,” Hanno added. “The next stage requires intensified efforts between all parties to assist and relieve the injured. I hope that assistance will be provided in transferring the injured to hospitals that are more qualified to ensure their recovery as quickly as possible.”
The patriarch of the Chaldean Church, Cardinal Louis Raphaël Sako, also expressed his support for the devastated Christian community, describing the wedding fire as a catastrophe that had never occurred in the history of Christians in Iraq.
Sako, who has been a longtime voice for the rights of Christians in Iraq, indicated that “corruption” may be to blame for the fire killing so many of the guests.
“Even this wedding hall was not devoid of corruption,” Sako said. “This catastrophe will remain alive in the conscience of the Iraqis through their solidarity and standing as one team in the face of tragedies.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani and Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government Masrour Barzani also announced a general mourning in Iraq and the Kurdistan region.
Sunni and Shia Muslims in the region and Iraq offered their condolences to the Christian community, canceling celebrations for the birth of Muhammad and announcing days of mourning.
Syriac Catholics are Eastern rite Christians in full communion with Rome.