ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Pope Francis will sell at auction a luxury sports car gifted to him. A portion of the proceeds will go to Christian communities in Iraq who are rebuilding after ISIS.
Lamborghini gifted the Pope with a special edition Huracan on Wednesday. The Pope blessed the car and signed his name on the hood.
The Vatican said the aim is to allow Christians who were forced to flee Nineveh “to finally return to their roots and recover their dignity.”
Iraq was home to over 1.5 million Christians before the country plunged into bloody sectarian conflict in 2003.
Those living in Nineveh province, including Mosul city, were one of the many groups persecuted under ISIS. Assyrian, Syriac, Chaldean and Armenian Christians left Iraq for the Kurdistan Region by the hundreds of thousands when ISIS came in August of 2014 escaping the extremists by just days. Many churches were destroyed or damaged by the group. The United States has described it as genocide.
Local Christian NGOs have told Rudaw English that they estimate about 200,000 Christians remain in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region with about that many having left for Lebanon, Europe, the United States, Canada, and Australia.
“Most Christians have emigrated due to bad security situations, which is why some churches in Baghdad have been closed. Priests have also decreased. Regarding the renovation of the churches, the Iraqi government will dedicate [some of the] budget for the churches,” Byus Qasha, the priest of Mar Youssef Church in Ainkawa, the Christian suburb of Erbil, told Rudaw this summer.
The Nineveh Plain near Mosul city historically has been a diverse place with many Christian areas. The disputed province is claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad. In October, the federal government imposed control over all disputed areas.
The head of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in the area called for the establishment of a safe haven under international protection in May.
The car will be auctioned off at Sotheby’s. The base price for the car is about $215,000. The special edition built for the Pope is expected to go for much more at auction.
Francis has promoted environmental awareness and used public transit in his native Argentina prior to his papal appointment. As Pope, he drives a Ford Focus in the Vatican and rarely rides in heavy, gas-guzzling armored SUVs like his predecessors.