Pope Francis visited Iraq for the first time
Besides meeting the Iraqi PM, His Holiness also celebrated a mass in the liberated Mosul
by: Maen Al-Tayyem
Pope Francis has become the first head of the Catholic Church to visit Iraq. His trip, which took place between the 5th and the 8th of March, carries an enormous significance, as it’s the first time the pontiff visited Iraq. It is his first international trip in over a year, and the security/ health risks are high.
The pope expressed his hope that Iraq can rebuild the country and bring stability and peace back to all its residents with Christian Iraqis – representing one of the world’s oldest Christian communities – being an active, empowered part of the process.
The pope was greeted on arrival by Iraqi PM Mustafa Al-Kadhimi. Despite the threat of COVID-19, hundreds lined the way of his convoy outside the airport.
Pope Francis in Vatican City. Photo courtesy of Ashwin Vaswani via Unsplash.
A meeting with Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani took place in the city of Najf. The religious leaders had a two-hour private discussion. The Holy Father emphasised the value of friendship, respect and dialogue between the different communities.
The meeting between the heads of the Catholic Church and Shiite Islam marks a historic moment in the relationship between the two.
Sistani has played a huge role in the defeat of ISIS on Iraqi soil after his call to arms in 2017 to all Iraqis to volunteer against the expanding militant group. This call is believed to have halted their expansion and marked the beginning of the end to ISIS.
His Holiness marked his visit with an interreligious meeting held in the plain of Ur. The plain is thought to be the birthplace of Abraham, who the three main religions in the region dignify as a patriarch of their faith.
In his address, Pope Francis highlighted the common origin of the three religions and warned against the use of religion as a tool of hate.
The cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad was also one of the most important stops, as the Syriac Catholic church was the subject of an attack by ISIS in 2010 which resulted in the deaths of 50 people.
A mass was also held in the city of Mosul, which fell into ISIS hands and is now left in ruins. The mass was held in the church square, in which the four surrounding churches for four different sects were severely damaged.
The Pope’s visit has given hope to the Iraqi Christian community. It is thought to be empowering and gives more resilience to the community against the circumstances of the country. It also sheds light on the importance of interreligious dialogue in religious communities, stressing the humanity represented in all faiths.
In the aftermath of the visit, Pope Francis has condemned arms manufacturers and traffickers and questioned how a small number of militants was able to cause such destruction.