Published courtesy of Vatican News 28 February 2022
Meeting a delegation of Iraqi Church religious leaders on Monday, Pope Francis encourages the local Christian communities to continue promoting dialogue so as to build fraternity and counteract extremism and fundamentalism.
By Lisa Zengarini
Pope Francis on Monday received in audience Representatives of the Christian Churches in Iraq visiting Rome on the occasion of the first anniversary of his Apostolic Journey to the country in March 2021.
Courageous witnesses of the Gospel
In his address to the delegation , the Holy Father recalled that Iraq is the cradle of civilization and of Christianity, remarking that it has also been a land of exiles since biblical times. Referring to the tragic events of these recent years, he expressed his deep gratitude to the Christian communities of Iraq for their “courageous witnesses of fidelity to the Gospel” amid persecution.
“I bow before the suffering and martyrdom of those who have preserved the faith, even at the cost of their lives. Just as the blood of Christ, shed out of love, brought reconciliation and made the Church flourish, may the blood of these many martyrs of our time, belonging to different traditions but united in the same sacrifice, be a seed of unity among Christians and a sign of a new springtime of faith.”
He further commended the Iraqi Churches for their fraternal relations which have allowed to establish “many links of collaboration in the field of pastoral care, formation and service to the poorest” and encouraged them to “continue along this path, so that, through concrete initiatives, constant dialogue and, fraternal love, progress may be made towards full unity”
“In the midst of a people which has suffered so much division and discord, Christians will shine as a prophetic sign of unity in diversity.”
An essential component of Iraqi society
Pope Francis went on to point out that Christians are an essential component of Iraqi society. “Iraq without Christians”, he said, “would no longer be Iraq, because Christians, along with other believers, contribute strongly to the country’s specific identity as a place where co-existence, tolerance and mutual acceptance have flourished ever since the first centuries”. This is why, Pope Francis stressed “no stone should be left unturned in ensuring that Christians continue to feel that Iraq is their home, and that they are citizens in their own right”.
The importance of dialogue
The Holy Father further highlighted that Christians of Iraq have the special vocation of ensuring that religions be at the service of fraternity and therefore the duty to engage in dialogue. Dialogue, he said, “is the best antidote to extremism, which is a danger for the followers of any religion and a grave threat to peace”.
He also noted fundamentalism can be eradicated only through addressing its root causes, which include “material, cultural and educational poverty and situations of injustice and vulnerability”.
“Don’t get discouraged!”
Wrapping up his address, Pope Francis called on Christians not be discouraged and to continue invoking the Spirit of Jesus “maker of unity”: “Let us ask the Holy Trinity, the model of true unity which is not uniformity, to strengthen communion among us and among our Churches. In this way we will be able to respond to the Lord’s heartfelt desire that his disciples be ‘one’ , Pope Francis concluded.
Members of the delegation
Members of the Iraqi delegation included, amongst others, Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Nicodemus Daoud of Mosul and East Assyrian Bishop Abris Youkhanna of Kirkuk and Diana, who both expressed deep gratitude to Pope Francis for his historic visit to Iraq.
Gratitude for the Pope’s visit to Iraq
Indeed, Archbishop Daoud highlighted the positive impact of that visit on interreligious relations in the country, especially on the attitude of Muslims towards Christians. For his part, Bishop Youkhanna noted that the Pope’s visit has given a “new impulse and light” to ecumenical dialogue in Iraq. “Dialogue is made up of human relationships that constantly reminds us that we are all children of God, and therefore brothers”, the prelate said.