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In Mosul, Pope frees dove and prays for the dead

A visibly moved Pope Francis listened to Christian and Muslim Iraqis' stories of life under Islamic State in Mosul.

And he blessed their vow to rise up from the ashes, as the earthquake-like destruction caused by the militants' brutal rule over the city lay all around him.

He released a dove as a symbol of peace on Sunday, day three of the first ever visit to Iraq by a pope.

"Today, however, we reaffirm our conviction that fraternity is more durable than fratricide, that hope is more powerful than hatred, that peace more powerful than war."

Mosul rolled out the red carpet for Francis - across the rubble.

He saw ruins of houses and churches in a square that was the old town's thriving center before Islamic State made it the capital of their self-declared "caliphate" from 2014 to 2017.

And he prayed for the dead.

Nowhere was the message of his visit clearer - the need to heal sectarian wounds, and to support Iraq's ancient, and now devastated, Christian population.

Many were killed, others have fled and are afraid to return.

The pope flew on by helicopter to Qaraqosh, a town near Mosul that was overrun by Islamic State, but where Christian families have slowly returned and rebuilt.

The town gave Francis the most raucous welcome he's received so far, with thousands of ecstatic people packing the roadsides.

Adding to fears that his visit could prove a health risk, most were not wearing masks.