Pope in Iraq: calls for peace, reconciliation and rejection of violence in the name of God

During his first hours in Iraq, Francis met with Iraq’s president, political leaders and diplomats. “May God grant that we journey together as brothers and sisters in ‘the firm conviction that authentic teachings of religions invite us to remain rooted in the values of peace… mutual understanding, human fraternity and harmonious coexistence’.” The pontiff will travel in a bullet-proof car and wear a mask.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis began his visit to Iraq, his 33 international trip, at 2 pm sharp, after a flight that lasted 4 and half hours. The pontiff hopes for the country to be finally at peace with itself, reconciled and democratic, in which all political, social and religious groups can participate and no one is considered a second-class citizen, rejecting violence in the name of God and still helped by the international community.

At Baghdad International Airport, the pontiff was greeted by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, (formerly known as Mustafa Abdul-Latif Mishatat). The two had a brief talk in the VIP lounge of the airport. Dancers, musicians and singers performed along the path the Pope took on his way out of the building to an awaiting bullet-proof car, which he will use during his visit to the Mideast country. This is a sign of more to come for Francis over the next few days. The young people who greeted the Pope with Iraqi and Vatican flags along the road from the airport were vetted and registered. The same is true for anyone who will participate in the meetings with the Pope. Another sign is the mask Francis wore in a country hard hit by the pandemic and the lockdown.

After his meeting with Iraqi President Barham Ahmed Salih Qassim, Francis mentioned the health crisis in his first speech to political and religious authorities, representatives of civil society groups and the diplomatic corps in the hall of the Presidential Palace.

“My visit is taking place at a time when the world as a whole is trying to emerge from the crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has affected not only the health of countless individuals but has also contributed to a worsening of social and economic conditions already marked by fragility and instability. This crisis calls for concerted efforts by all to take necessary steps, including an equitable distribution of vaccines for everyone. But this is not enough: this crisis is above all a summons to ‘rethink our styles of life… and the meaning of our existence’ (Fratelli Tutti, 33). It has to do with coming out of this time of trial better than we were before, and with shaping a future based more on what unites us than on what divides us.”

In his address, the Pope focused on the issue of unity, saying “I have come as a pilgrim to encourage” Christians. He also greeted “ the members of other Christian Churches and Ecclesial Communities, the followers of Islam and the representatives of other religious traditions. May God grant that we journey together as brothers and sisters in “the firm conviction that authentic teachings of religions invite us to remain rooted in the values of peace… mutual understanding, human fraternity and harmonious coexistence”

The Iraqi government has gone all out to give the visit maximum solemnity. The pope travelled in a motorcade, arriving at the presidential palace with a ceremonial detail on horseback with Iraqi and Vatican flags, replaced by a band that preceded the car going inside the complex, soldiers lined up, some  white doves released, and children in traditional clothes offering flowers.

During his speech, the Pope noted that “Over the past several decades, 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, different ideas and cultures. All this has brought in its wake death, destruction and ruin, not only materially: the damage is so much deeper if we think of the heartbreak endured by so many individuals and communities, and wounds that will take years to heal.

“Here, among so many who have suffered, my thoughts turn to the Yazidis, innocent victims of senseless and brutal atrocities, persecuted and killed for their religion, and whose very identity and survival was put at risk. Only if we learn to look beyond our differences and see each other as members of the same human family, will we be able to begin an effective process of rebuilding and leave to future generations a better, more just and more humane world. In this regard, the religious, cultural and ethnic diversity that has been a hallmark of Iraqi society for millennia is a precious resource on which to draw, not an obstacle to be eliminated. Iraq today is called to show everyone, especially in the Middle East, that diversity, instead of giving rise to conflict, should lead to harmonious cooperation in the life of society.”

“Fraternal coexistence calls for patient and honest dialogue, protected by justice and by respect for law. This task is not easy; it demands hard work and a commitment on the part of all to set aside rivalries and contrapositions and instead to speak with one another from our deepest identity as fellow children of the one God and Creator.”

“It is a virtue that leads us to carry out concrete acts of care and service with particular concern for the vulnerable and those most in need. Here, I think of all those who have lost family members and loved ones, home and livelihood due to violence, persecution or terrorism. I think too of those who continue to struggle for security and the means of personal and economic survival at a time of growing unemployment and poverty.”

“I come as a pilgrim of peace in the name of Christ, the Prince of Peace. How much we have prayed in these years for peace in Iraq! Saint John Paul II spared no initiatives and above all offered his prayers and sufferings for this intention. And God listens, he always listens! It is up to us to listen to him and to walk in his ways. May the clash of arms be silenced! May their spread be curbed, here and everywhere! May partisan interests cease, those outside interests uninterested in the local population. May the voice of builders and peacemakers find a hearing! The voice of the humble, the poor, the ordinary men and women who want to live, work and pray in peace. May there be an end to acts of violence and extremism, factions and intolerance! May room be made for all those citizens who seek to cooperate in building up this country through dialogue and through frank, sincere and constructive discussion. Citizens committed to reconciliation and prepared, for the common good, to set aside their own interests.”

“The international community also has a role to play in the promotion of peace in this land and in the Middle East as a whole. As we have seen during the lengthy conflict in neighbouring Syria – which began ten years ago these very days! – the challenges facing our world today engage the entire human family. They call for cooperation on a global scale in order to address, among other things, the economic inequalities and regional tensions that threaten the stability of these lands.”

“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. Their participation in public life, as citizens with full rights, freedoms and responsibilities, will testify that a healthy pluralism of religious beliefs, ethnicities and cultures can contribute to the nation’s prosperity and harmony.” (FP)