For the archbishop of Vasai (Maharashtra), who has been involved in interfaith dialogue for years, news that the pope will travel to Iraq is a sign of hope for the world that has been paralysed by the pandemic, but it is also a sign for peace at a time of divisions and angst.
Pope Francis’s “prophetic” message to a world in the grip of the pandemic is a sign of “hope” for peace, fulfilling the “dream of Saint John Paul II” who wanted to travel to Ur of the Chaldees in 2000, writes Archbishop Felix Machado of Vasai (Maharashtra) in his comments to AsiaNews following Monday’s announcement that Pope Francis plans to visit Iraq from 5 to 8 March 2021.
The visit, still in its preparation phase, will see Francis visit Baghdad, the plain of Ur, linked to the memory of Abraham, the city of Erbil, as well as Mosul and Qaraqosh in the Nineveh Plain.
Archbishop Machado has been involved for years in interfaith dialogue. At present he is secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.
This is delightful news for the entire world during this pandemic of Covid-19. The Holy Father matches his actions with his words. All along this pandemic Pope Francis keeps saying that life has to go on, even though with caution.
When Pope John Paul II announced the plans for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 by promulgating his Apostolic Letter, "Anno Adveniente", he ardently desired to go to Iraq, to commemorate the first explicit step of Faith which Abraham had demonstrated by his obedience to God (Salvation History begins there).
Pope John Paul II wanted to inaugurate the Jubilee programmes officially by personally being in Ur dei Caldei in Iraq. Sadly, Saddam Husain did not accept the wish of St John Paul II and declined to invite St John Paul to Iraq. The Pope was very disappointed and he immediately sent the late Cardinal Roger Etchagaray, known to be the trouble shooter, to meet and persuade Saddam Husain (while at the same time St John Paul II sent Cardinal Pio Laghi to the United States to meet the US President in order to dissuade him from attacking Iraq).
St John Paul II wanted peace and peace at any cost. He had already said emphatically the devastating effects of war when Afghanistan was attacked. The journey Pope John Paul II wanted to undertake was not just for the sake of 'world news' but he made every effort to promote peace in the tense and broken world.
Both the Cardinals came back with an unaccomplished mission. This was very painful, to say the least. The Holy See then organized a "symbolic" ceremony in the Aula Paul VI (the Audience Hall) creating a "Ur dei Caldei" and St Pope John Paul II led the prayer service. I was present for this very meaningful moving and prayerful Ceremony (which could have taken place in Iraq had the Holy Father travelled to Iraq).
In a way, Pope Francis is fulfilling the dream of St John Paul II but it is more than that – it is a memory kept alive of our salvation history (and also geography) which must be always remembered historically (salvation history).
The news of Pope Francis' journey to Iraq makes me very happy also because the "Popes" come and go but the "Papacy" has remained since the first Pope, St Peter!
The Holy Father's journey to Iraq in March 2021 is a powerful symbol especially in today's distressed, afflicted and confused world due to the pandemic Covid-19. It is a sign of hope which the world needs.
There is no doubt that the Holy Father will bring a prophetic message to the world."
(Nirmala Carvalho contributed to this article)