The Secretary of State of the Vatican, Pietro Parolin, discussed the situation of Christians in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region in meetings with senior Kurdish leaders on Thursday.
Parolin "expressed his gratitude to the people and government of the Kurdistan Region for their way of handling the crisis that started with the 2014 terrorist attacks," according to a statement by the office of the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Masoud Barzani.
Masoud Barzani, from his side, pointed to the Kurdistan Region's coexistence as the "principle" that is part of the Kurdish culture. Historically, "people of different components have lived peacefully together as brothers and sisters in Kurdistan," he said.
During Parolin's meeting with Masrour Barzani, the Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC), the two sides "discussed the plight of Christians and other religious groups in Iraq and the Middle East."
Since 2014, dozens of thousands of Christians from different parts of Iraq sought refuge in the Kurdistan Region after the emergence of the Islamic State (IS) in much of the country.
The two sides "exchanged ideas on how Kurdistan Region, the Holy See and the international community can work together to foster the dignified return of displaced Christians to their ancestral homes, address their security needs, and counter violence and extremist ideology."
The extremist group killed Christian civilians, forced some to convert to Islam, and destroyed or desecrated churches in cities like Mosul which it controlled.
Fearing continued persecution and with their areas still in tatters in the Nineveh Plain -- an ethnically and religiously diverse region that lies outside of Mosul -- the community remains displaced.
According to the Iraqi Ministry of Migration and Displacement, a limited number of displaced Christians have returned to their homes in the aforementioned areas.
One day before the dignitary's visit, Iraq's Council of Ministers declared that Dec. 25 would become an annual public holiday throughout the country.
This is the first time the Iraqi government has announced the observance of Christmas as a national holiday to include all citizens after it was only limited to Christians for decades. In doing so, the rest of the nation joins the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region that has long included Christmas in its public holidays.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany.