Peace-loving people worldwide are focusing their attention on the proposed papal visit to Iraq as the time of the trip approaches, namely on March 5-8.
With the deterioration of security situation in Iraq, hopes hinge on the importance of this visit viewing it as a means to resuscitate a Middle East that restores its beauty, unity, common living, and most of all its diversity.
Reports say that two deadly suicide bombs wreaked havoc on Baghdad’s streets on Thursday, January 21, that stained the streets with blood and further complicated the security situation, thus replacing hope with despair and pain. Whenever signs of peace and stability emerge in Iraq’s offing, orchestrated violent acts take place that dim hopes for a better future.
These security violations take place at a time when His Holiness Pope Francis accepted an invitation to visit Iraq on March 5-8, 2021 in a quest to restore confidence to the Christian Iraqis by convincing them to stay in their motherland, to help those who emigrated to return home, as well as to help heal the rift in the Iraqi society, dress its wounds, and resuscitate the nation.
This proposed papal visit is an assertion that the people of Iraq are worthy to visit and that this deteriorating situation in this country is transient.
It things go as planned, one of the highlights of the trip will be a visit to Qaraqosh in the northern part of the country. This area holds the country's largest Christian population where 50,000 of its inhabitants were forced to flee in the wake of ISIS attack in 2014.
Fr. Georges Jahola, a priest in Qaraqosh, has said, "The city is now shining, first of all, because of its citizens. Also, as a parish, its faithful are shining. It shines in the houses that have been rebuilt as a sign of recovery and the tenacity to remain in this land."
Referring to the planned papal visit, he said, “Pope Francis will hear stories of martyrs and heroes… For us, the visit is a gesture of encouragement and a message to the faint of heart who thought this land was no longer worthwhile. It is worth it because the Holy Father wants this country, these people, to rise and resurrect in this land."
Reports on Pope's planned visit to Iraq brought elation and joy to all components of the Iraqi society with a hope that a new page would be turned over in the history of modern Iraq, and peace would prevail in this ailing country.
Pope Francis is expected to ask Christian Iraqis to rebuild the whole country and not to isolate themselves. He wants to bring a message of hope to all Iraqis, exhausted by terror and destruction.
Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans and head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, had earlier said that the planned visit would carry messages to remind Iraqis of peace, common living, would place an emphasis on the true meaning of brotherhood and citizenship, as well as would encourage Christians to stay in their country and build confidence between each other towards a better future.
On the other hand, Cardinal Sako composed a prayer that the churches across Iraq would recite effective Sunday, 17 January, in preparation for the visit of Pope Francis in March. In the prayer, Sako asked that God grant the Pope good health and safety to carry out successfully this eagerly awaited visit. The prayer says in part, “Bless his effort to promote dialogue, enhance fraternal reconciliation, build confidence, as well as consolidate peace values and human dignity.”
What is saddening is that during an earlier interview with an Italian, Pope Francis hinted that the trip could be called off, saying he had to cancel other scheduled trips due to COVID-19 because “in good conscience, I can’t be the cause of gatherings of people. Now I don’t know if the trip to Iraq can take place. Life has changed,” he said.
With the situation in Iraq could prone to further escalation, the proposed visit becomes more important as it helps quench the flames of hate and plant instead roses of hope that prognosticate a better future.
This visit is quite an important event for all Iraqis including all minorities because it sends a strong signal of great support after the suffering caused by ISIS and the successive spate of violence that prevailed.
It is hoped that the papal visit will take place as scheduled since wherever Pope Francis goes, in his capacity as the successor of St Peter, the peace of Jesus Christ definitely prevails.
If political, security or health problems stand in the way of the fulfillment of this visit in March as originally planned, we have confidence that the visit will take place eventually.
The people of Iraq should fear nothing because the hands of the Lord will always take care of the suffering country and extricate it from the imbroglios in which they are embroiled.
The Holy Bible says, “For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.” (Isaiah 41:13)