Pope in Iraq: Faith and hope cannot be suffocated in bloodshed
In Mosul, the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital, Pope Francis prayed for the victims of wars. In Qaraqosh, the main Christian city in the country, “Even amid the ravages of terrorism and war, we can see, with the eyes of faith, the triumph of life over death.”
Mosul (AsiaNews) – Hosh-al-Bieaa, Church Square, Mosul's square of the four churches (Syriac Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox and Chaldean), is somehow the symbol of the Islamic State's desire to destroy a world – in fact, all four were destroyed between 2014 and 2017 – but it is also the place, Pope Francis said, from which to invoke God's forgiveness and ask for the grace of conversion.
Mosul, the first stop in Francis' day, was the capital of the Islamic State between June 2014 and July 2017. During this period, half a million people fled the city, including more than 120,000 Christians.
“The tragic diminution of Jesus’ disciples here and across the Middle East does incalculable harm not just to the individuals and communities concerned but also to the society they leave behind. Indeed such a richly diverse cultural and religious fabric as this is weakened by the loss of any of its members, however small.”
We are in the Nineveh Plain, in the proudly autonomous region of Kurdistan. Reconstruction is underway, and Christians, despite the losses, are coming back.
“Today,” said Francis, “we reaffirm our conviction that fraternity is more durable than fratricide, that hope is more powerful than hatred, that peace more powerful than war. This conviction speaks with greater eloquence than the passing voices of hatred and violence, and it can never be silenced by the blood spilled by those who pervert the name of God to pursue paths of destruction.”
On several occasions, Francis condemned violence committed in the name of God. Here he warns: “If God is the God of life – for so he is – then it is wrong for us to kill our brothers and sisters in his Name. If God is the God of peace – for so he is – then it is wrong for us to wage war in his Name. If God is the God of love – for so he is – then it is wrong for us to hate our brothers and sisters.”
“Lord our God, in this city, we see two signs of the perennial human desire for closeness to you: the Al-Nouri Mosque, with its Al-Hadba minaret, and the Church of Our Lady of the Hour, whose clock for more than a century has reminded passers-by that life is short and that time is precious.
“Teach us to realize that you have entrusted to us your plan of love, peace and reconciliation, and charged us to carry it out in our time, in the brief span of our earthly lives. Make us recognize that only in this way, by putting it into practice immediately, can this city and this country be rebuilt, and hearts torn by grief be healed. Help us not to pass our time in promoting our selfish concerns, whether as individuals or as groups, but in serving your loving plan.
“And whenever we go astray, grant that we may heed the voice of true men and women of God and repent in due time, lest we be once more overwhelmed by destruction and death.
“To you we entrust all those whose span of earthly life was cut short by the violent hand of their brothers and sisters; we also pray to you for those who caused such harm to their brothers and sisters. May they repent, touched by the power of your mercy.”
From the pain of Mosul to the celebrations in Qaraqosh. Iraq’s main Christian city with over 50,000, 90 per cent Christians, was seized in the summer of 2014 by the Islamic State group, which destroyed houses and churches. Here the pope's arrival is one of joy. People shouted, sang, followed running the car carrying the pontiff.
The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Iraq's largest Marian shrine, where Francis recited the Angelus, was used for target practising. A “carpet of shell casings" covered the ground, and bullet holes still decorate the walls and columns. A woman and a priest spoke about those days of death and flight.
In this setting, the Pope called for the courage to rebuild. “Even amid the ravages of terrorism and war, we can see, with the eyes of faith, the triumph of life over death.” The example of your forebears who “persevered with unwavering hope” is your legacy. “Now is the time to rebuild and to start afresh, relying on the grace of God, who guides the destinies of all individuals and peoples.”
To reach this end comes “Forgiveness; that is a key word. Forgiveness is necessary to remain in love, to remain Christian. The road to a full recovery may still be long, but I ask you, please, not to grow discouraged. What is needed is the ability to forgive, but also the courage not to give up. I know that this is very difficult. But we believe that God can bring peace to this land. We trust in him and, together with all people of good will, we say ‘no’ to terrorism and the manipulation of religion.” At the same time, “Memory of the past shapes the present and leads us forward to the future.
“At all times, let us offer thanks to God for his gracious gifts and ask him to grant his peace, forgiveness and fraternity to this land and its people. Let us pray tirelessly for the conversion of hearts and for the triumph of a culture of life, reconciliation and fraternal love between all men and women, with respect for differences and diverse religious traditions, in the effort to build a future of unity and cooperation between all people of good will.” (FP)