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Christian wedding blaze mourners in Iraq receive a message from Pope Francis

by Ros Mayfield

The Pope has sent a telegram of condolence to those affected by the deadly fire that broke out at a Christian wedding party in northern Iraq.  

Around 100 people died, and more than 150 were injured, when the blaze raced through Al Haitham Hall, near the Biblical city of Nineveh, during the wedding reception of a Syriac Catholic couple.

It happened in a predominantly Christian area of Iraq, near Mosul.  The local community was in mourning, across different faiths.  Sunni Muslims cancelled a Muslim celebration, while the Shi'a community sent statements of condolences and support.  Iraq's Prime Minister has visited the hospital where several of the injured are being treated. Some are said to be suffering serious burns, and it's though the death toll could still rise. 

The telegram from the Pope was issued to the highest representative of the Catholic church in the region, the Most Revd Benedectos Younan Hano Archbishop of Mossul of the Syriacs, and read:

"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. Entrusting the souls of the deceased to the loving mercy of Almighty God, he sends heartfelt condolences to those who mourn their loss. His Holiness likewise offers prayers for the injured and for the relief efforts of the emergency personnel. Upon all he invokes the divine blessings of consolation, healing and strength."

The cause of the first has not been declared, but initial reports suggested that the ceiling caught fire after indoor fireworks were let off.  The venue's owners have been accused of breaking health and safety rules.  The bride and groom are believed to have survived the blaze. 

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