Pope Francis Visits Iraq
“May the weapons be silenced. May there be an end to acts of violence and extremism,” Amidst the rising second wave of pandemic, Pope Francis still decided to visit the comfort of one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, simultaneously also deepening his dialogue with Muslims.
The Pope has landed at Baghdad’s International Airport, where he was greeted by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, as well as several groups showcasing Iraq’s diverse folklore music and dance forms.
He then also met with President Barham Salih who had extended the official invitation back in 2019 as well as other government and religious figures of Iraq.
Pope John Paul II had intended to go in 2000, but the trip was canceled as tensions in the region mounted. Benedict XVI was also invited but couldn’t make it because of the war.
Pope Francis accepted the invitation and also made it clear that he does not want to disappoint the Iraqi people, especially the country’s suffering Christian population. The Vatican believes that the risks are outweighed by the chance to support and be close to one of the world’s oldest Christian communities.
The Holy church is of the belief that the Christian faith is in danger from disappearing from Iraq. Its ranks have been diminishing for years. Only a third of the 1.5 million who lived there during the final years of Saddam Hussein’s rule exist now in the war-torn state.
Pope Francis will also meet with Shiite leaders, hoping to improve relations and establish a ground for peace that would eventually protect the people of all religions in Iraq.
Pope Francis said in his speech:
"May the clash of arms be silenced... may there be an end to acts of violence and extremism, factions and intolerance ! ... Iraq has suffered the disastrous effects of wars, the scourge of terrorism and sectarian conflicts often grounded in a fundamentalism incapable of accepting the peaceful coexistence of different ethnic and religious groups."
He also addressed the Iraqi Christians and stated:
"The age-old presence of Christians in this land, and their contributions to the life of the nation, constitute a rich heritage that they wish to continue to place at the service of all,"
He further added that Iraq's diversity was a "precious resource on which to draw, not an obstacle to eliminate".
The Pope later also went to hold and address a Mass in Baghdad's Syriac Catholic church of Our Lady of Salvation, targeted in an attack in 2010 by jihadists which left 52 Christians and police dead.
This attempt by the Pope is to re-affirm the faith of the believers in the Papacy. One of the oldest christain communities in the world which once boasted of about 1.4 million followers has now gone down to about 250,000, which is less than 1% of the population. The trip is rich in symbolism and not just for the security concerns of a country torn by inter-religious and sectarian conflict going on since decades but also in the midst of its highest infection levels since the start of the pandemic.
"I feel an indescribable happiness. We're all brothers and sisters, we're all one hand. We're all going to greet someone great, the greatest figure, the Pope," people told Reuters news agency on the Pope's historic visit which was long overdue since 20 years.
The Pope would also be visiting the ancient site of Ur, beleived to be the birthplace of Abraham.
The Pope will also be visiting the nearby Qaraqosh, where Christians have returned since the defeat of Daesh in 2017.
Pope Francis is all set to dissolve boundaries and open new channels of communication in the middle east. One can hope and wish that this provides atleast some relief to the region and people torn apart by years of conflict and strife.
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