Pope Francis in Iraq… next year

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Pope Francis in Iraq… next year

By Fr. Dr. Rif’at Bader

While receiving members of the 92nd Plenary Session of ROACO, the Reunion of Aid Agencies that provides aid to the Oriental Catholic Churches on Monday, June 10, Pope Francis revealed that it is his wish to travel to Iraq in the coming year. This expression caused excessive elation and exhilaration among all shades of the Iraqi people as well as among their Arab brethren and friends everywhere.

They are elated because this has been the wish of former pontiffs including Pope John Paul II who paid in 2000 a pilgrimage trip, which he called a "spiritual pilgrimage”, to the Chaldean city of Ur--the birthplace of Prophet Abraham--prior to his visits to Egypt, Jordan and Palestine. This wish comes true after two bitter decades which caused great damage, led to changes in the governing system, as well as triggered the emergence of extremist movements that undertook large-scale terrorist acts.

Today, the Iraqis rejoice because such a “key visit” confirms that the Christian presence did not fade away in this dear country. This presence decreased and was subjected to intentional persecution and forcible displacement as has been the case in Mosul. Explosions erupted in churches while worshipers were praying, furthermore, several bishops, priests and worshippers were killed, but the Christian presence was not eliminated. This presence was reduced but it still manifests the deep-rooted faith in the land of Abraham, Jonah and other prophets.

The Iraqis rejoice and we share with them their joy, because they want to set the basis for a future based on equality and the principle of citizenship, as well as common living among various religious and ethnic components of the society.

All of these components, without exception, have been subjected to violence and elimination attempts. But we hope that the future will be propitious for Iraq. This bright future will serve the cause of humans who suffered over the past years from the scourge of wars and in-fighting.

The Iraqis are joyful and we share their joy because Pope Francis did not leave them alone for a moment. He had earlier sent several representatives to enquire about the conditions of the Christian people or rather about the entire Iraqi people. It is worthy to note that several embassies closed their doors during the raging bloody conflict in Iraq, yet the apostolic nunciature remained open to help alleviate the suffering of the people. Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako has been named cardinal, consequently acting as assistant to Holiness Pope Francis, and serving as member of the Islamic-Christian Dialogue Committee. The Vatican has also instructed a large number of its affiliated charities in the world--such as Caritas and Aid to the Church in Need-- to support the suffering Iraqi people and the forcibly displaced from Mosul who took refuge in Erbil and other cities of Kurdistan in northern Iraq, as well as others who fled to Jordan, Lebanon and other countries.

Your Holiness, you are welcome in our dear East.

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