Pope Francis in Iraq meets with father whose children died as refugees in shipwreck

Pope Francis in Iraq meets with father whose children died as refugees in shipwreck

Pope Francis met with Abdullah Kurdi in Erbil, Iraq on March 7, 2021. VATICAN MEDIA

By Courtney Mares

Catholic News Agency

March 8, 2021

Pope Francis met Sunday with a father who lost his wife and two children in a shipwreck as Syrian war refugees.

Abdullah Kurdi was one of the thousands of people in the crowd at the pope’s stadium Mass in Erbil, Iraq, on March 7.

The haunting photo of his son, Alan Kurdi, made headlines around the world in 2015. The photo showed the three-year-old’s tiny body lying face down on a Turkish beach after he drowned trying to cross the Aegean Sea.

Abdullah Kurdi was one of only four people to survive after a dinghy carrying 16 refugees making the perilous journey from Turkey to the Greek Island of Kos capsized. His other son, Ghalib, and his wife, Rehanna, also died in the shipwreck.

During their encounter after the Mass in Erbil, Pope Francis told the father that the Lord participated in his suffering, according to a statement from the Holy See press office.

“The pope spent a long time with him and with the help of the interpreter he was able to listen to his father’s pain for the loss of his family and to express his profound participation and that of the Lord in the suffering of man,” it said.

Kurdi, a Syrian of Kurdish ethnicity, now lives in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region.

The Vatican said that the father thanked the pope for his words of closeness to his tragedy and to that of many migrants who risked their lives to leave their country.

Pope Francis is known for speaking out on behalf of refugees. The week of the death of Kurdi’s family, the pope made an appeal to parishes and religious communities to welcome refugees in his Angelus address on Sept. 6, 2015.

“Faced with the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees fleeing death from war and hunger … the Gospel calls us, asks us to be close to the smallest and most abandoned,” Pope Francis said.

The pope also gave a statue depicting Kurdi’s young son to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) headquarters during a visit in 2017.

Kurdi set up a foundation with his sister Tima, the Alan and Ghalib Kurdi Foundation, which raises money in support of refugee children.

In past years, the two siblings spent the anniversary of the shipwreck distributing clothes and supplies to children living in refugee camps.

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