Franciscan of the Holy Land: Pope encountered God’s new shrine in Iraq

For Fr Ibrahim Faltas, the pontiff found a new Holy Land amid the rubble, the severed heads of the statues of Our Lady and in the devastation by the Islamic State. He also found a “people who clung to their land through their faith.” The pontiff also sent greetings to President Abbas, which “amazed everyone.”

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis “found God’s new shrine” amid the rubble, the blown off chapters, the severed heads of statues of Our Lady, in historic places erased by the devastation of the Islamic State group (Daesh in Arabic), touching first-hand “people who clung to their land through their faith,” writes Fr Ibrahim Faltas in a letter to AsiaNews.

Speaking about Pope Francis's recent visit to Iraq, the discreet of the Franciscan Custody and director of the Christian schools of the Holy Land, noted that the pontiff’s greatness also lies “in the thoughts that he constantly devotes to the Middle East, making himself a pilgrim in our Holy Land.”

Commenting on the first, historic visit by a pope “to the ancient land of Abraham, common father recognised by Jews, Christians and Muslims,” underlines his being a “pilgrim of peace” among people of different faiths.

Francis is also “the first pope to visit a Shia-majority country,” in a land where Christians “have suffered unprecedented violence” under the Islamic State group.

His “trip incarnates . . . the words and the document signed by the Pope and Grand Imam of Alzhar during the meeting in Abu Dhabi” as “the first real step towards ‘universal fraternity’ as outlined in the encyclical”.

For the Franciscan priest, the deepest value of this apostolic journey was the message he brought with him. “The Middle East without Christians would not exist” and “will continue to exist only with the presence of Christians”.

“Many people thought the trip had to be postponed because of the many problems it presented: insecurity and instability of the country, the ongoing world pandemic, the very health of the pope”.

However, the pontiff showed “a lot of courage and determination and went against the current, because he felt a strong duty to visit the people of Iraq, Christians and Muslims, who live on the same land, to bring a word of hope and fraternity, a caress from God”.

Thanks to his testimony, Iraqis can now help each other to “rebuild together from the rubble” and create a “land of peace”.

We should also see from this perspective the meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the “great sage” of Shia Islam in the sacred city of Najaf.

“Pope Francis is following a path undertaken 800 years ago by Saint Francis,” Fr Ibrahim explained, “embracing the two souls of Islam: meeting the Sunni [with Grand Imam al Tayeb] of Al-Azhar and the Shia with al-Sistani.”

The aim was to find a concrete synthesis in interreligious prayer in the plain of Ur of the Chaldeans, the “homeland” of Abraham, meeting and praying “to be instruments of reconciliation and peace”.

In closing, the Franciscan cleric also expressed appreciation the message “of peace and prayer and the fraternal greeting” sent to Palestinian President of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas and his people, during the flight that took him from Rome to Baghdad.

“The news made the rounds in Palestine quickly, because receiving a message of peace, a thought addressed to the Palestinians, as he prepared himself to make such a difficult and complex journey, left everyone amazed! Great Pope Francis!”.

In addition to being a message to the world about the situation in Iraq, “Pope Francis's apostolic journey to Iraq is an appeal to the international community to put an end to wars, occupations and divisions throughout the Middle East.”