Pope Francis will pay a four-day visit to Iraq after a few days. Why Iraq? Why now? Why do analysts view it as a dream that comes true? I go back to the year 2000, the year of the Great Jubilee, when Pope John Paul II laid out a plan for the Christian pilgrimage on that unique year. He summed up all the information about a huge plan in a document titled, “Pilgrimage to the Places Linked to the History of Salvation.” The broad lines implied following in the footsteps of the people of the Holy Bible, starting from Chaldean Ur, where the faith of Abraham--the Father of the Faithful--began and formed the beginning of the faith in the One God, followed by a pilgrimage to Egypt, then proceeding from Moses to Jordan and standing on Mount Nebo, and continuing from the Baptism Site then proceeding to Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Nazareth. The second year includes following in the footsteps of the Apostles, particularly Apostle Paul, in Damascus and from there proceeding to Rome and other parts of the world.
The plan went well except for the starting point as financial and trade embargo were imposed on fraternal Iraq at the time. So, the Pope made a virtual pilgrimage by holding a special prayer for Iraq at St. Peter's Church in the Vatican which included a presentation of a documentary film. The Pope said in his aforementioned message: “The first leg of my trip is related to Abraham, the father of the believers in the One God par excellence. I would like to go to Chaldean Ur (currently known as Tall al-Muqayyar) in southern Iraq, where according to the Holy Bible, Abraham heard the Almighty God’s call to be a tool in the service of the plan of salvation.”
The "virtual" pilgrimage took place on February 23, 2000, on the eve of the Pope's visit to Egypt. Nowadays, in the era of "virtual" encounters caused by the Corona pandemic, the dream is fulfilled by the historic visit of Pope Francis to fraternal Iraq. The visit includes several activities, official meetings, and prayers with the Christian Iraqi people who remained on their land, and who stand firm in the faith of their fathers and grandfathers. This is the first visit of the Pope concomitant with the emergence of the Corona crisis, which regrettably continues to cast a painful image on Iraq as well as the countries of the East and the world. However, the Pope, who titled his visit "You Are all Brothers", wants to send a message of hope and grace to the brethren in Iraq who have been burdened by wars over decades, afflicted by terrorism, with thousands of them forcibly displaced and killed. They are also pained by the deteriorating economic conditions, the epidemic, as well as several social ills.
We plead with the Lord to crown the Pope's pilgrimage with success. We are aware of the amount of effort required for such a busy visit. We have already experienced this four times in Jordan, yet we also realize the ineffable joy the people will feel when they welcome the successor of Saint Peter and the head of the Catholic Church.
Consequently, 21 years ago the Pope made a virtual pilgrimage, yet in the era of virtual encounters in 2021, the Pope comes to Iraq which is marked by its rich religious history, the burden of wars and their ramifications, at a time when its people need to hear words of hope, compassion, and healing.