PUBLISHED COURTESY OF VATICAN NEWS
Father Rif’at Bader, Director of The Catholic Center for Studies and Media (CCSM), provides historical and contextual background to Pope Francis’ scheduled Apostolic Journey to Iraq in March 2021.
By Fr. Rif’at Bader
Iraq is a sacred country. It was inhabited by prophets, the oldest of whom was Abraham, who headed from the Chaldean Ur to the Holy land, where the era of prophecy began in the old times. Iraq is the country of Prophet Jonah who lived in Nineveh and called for repentance and permanent return to God. It is also the country in which the people were exiled in the Old Testament during a merciless trip called “exile” to Babylon.
In the first place, the Pope comes to the country of Mesopotamia as a pilgrim. An announcement has been made about an imminent visit of Pope Francis to Iraq. This visit comes actually on the heels of an official invitation that is usually issued by authorities competent in political affairs, implying the president of the Republic of Iraq. It is also coupled with a second invitation by the Catholic Church in Iraq. When we mention the Catholic Church, we mean of course all the Catholic churches present in Iraq, but mostly the Chaldean Church that is currently headed by one of the Pope’s aides, namely Cardinal Louis Raphaël I Sako. This is not to ignore the Syriac Catholic Church whose faithful were the martyrs of faith, especially after the bombing of Our Lady of Deliverance Church 10 years ago. There is, of course, a modest presence of other Catholic churches, namely the Latin, the Maronite, the Greek Catholic, Coptic, and Armenian churches. There is, of course, other non-Catholic sisterly churches, the most important of which is the Assyrian Church, whose leadership was in Iraq but moved for years to the United States of America and then came back to Baghdad.
Pope Francis goes to Iraq at a time when his predecessors were unable to do so due to the complexities of the pressing conditions that prevailed recently, including wars, sectarian violence, terrorist attacks, and the complexities of the political affairs in that fraternal country.
Pope John Paul II had an earnest wish to visit Iraq in 1999, but due to the blockade which was imposed on Iraq at the time late President Saddam Hussein postponed the visit that was scheduled that year. Thus, the saint pope made a “spiritual” pilgrimage to this country, on March 12, 2000, in order to start the pilgrimage journey in the year of the great jubilee from the country of Prophet Abraham which was fulfilled with a visit to Egypt, Jordan and Palestine. A year later he walked in the steps of Paul the Apostle to Syria.
Today, Pope Francis–who always focuses on respect for the poor, the refugees and the immigrants, as well as their right to a safe life– goes to Iraq where in recent years Christian and Yazidis, especially from the Nineveh Plain and Mosul and from neighboring towns and cities, have been forcibly displaced to countries of the world in the wake of the terrorist acts conducted by ISIS at the time.
Pope Francis comes to Iraq in the first place to encourage the Christian community in Iraq which has withstood political “turbulences” that took place including foreign wars or in-fighting. There is still a bright and glorious Christian presence despite the dramatic decrease in numbers.
Consequently, the Pontiff wants to encourage those who are steadfast in the land of their ancestors in spite of the successive disasters especially during his scheduled visit to the city of Erbil, where there are currently good numbers of forcibly displaced people from Mosul and the towns of the Nineveh Plain. His Holiness will also visit Mosul and Qaraqosh township to further encourage the forcibly displaced who live abroad to possibly return to the land of their ancestors and grandparents.
Pope Francis wants in the second place to promote dialogue and common living between all the religious components, whether at the ecumenical level between sisterly Churches, or through Islamic-Christian relations. It is well-known that there is not only Christian-Sunni dialogue, but there is also Shiite-Christian dialogue. On the land of Iraq, there is a historical presence of Sabean-Mandeans, Yazidis, Baha’is, as well as other religions and traditions.
Furthermore, Pope Francis–who is the man who supports dialogue– wants to emphasize the feeling, the duty and the responsibility of fraternal common living among the various components of the Iraqi people, under the umbrella of citizenship, especially a few months after he signed an important document called “Fratelli Tutti” or “We are all brothers and sisters.”
Pope Francis will definitely send a message for the pursuit of paths of peace, dialogue, fraternity, cooperation and constructive cooperation among the various politicians in Iraq in order to rebuild a strong modern Iraqi state after years of hard and bitter wars, sectarian squabbles, and attacks by terrorist groups, so as to restore the spirit of hope among all Iraqis, especially the youth, for a better future.
We look forward to the visit of the Holy Father which will be the first by the successor of Saint Peter. We hope that the visit will take place at a time when the epidemic-related conditions have improved in the world countries. The official Vatican statement referred to this point, while the visit schedule will take into account the development of the global health emergency, whether in Italy, from whose airport the Pope will leave or in Iraq whose motley of inhabitants will welcome him with great joy.
We pray to God that the upcoming visit will be successful and fruitful, as well as serving as a start for unity by urging the Iraqi people to turn over a new leaf, and to seek mutual forgiveness, so that this fraternal country would start the process of healing the wounds of the past and looking towards to the future with hope and grace.
Lastly there are two points:
The first one is that during the Pope’s visit to the United Arab Emirates in early 2019, he signed an important document with the Imam of Al-Azhar titled, “The Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together”. Two months later, he was in Morocco to sign an Appeal with the King of Morocco on Jerusalem. Is there a new document that will see the light of the day in Mesopotamia?
The second point is that in March 2003, the American war drums were beating for Iraq, which enjoyed international approval, except for Pope John Paul II, who said: “NO TO WAR”! War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity.” In March 2021, Pope Francis will come to try to restore what was destroyed, as a result of not listening to the voice of his predecessor, the saint Pope…
Pope Francis, you are welcome anew in our Arab homeland.
PUBLISHED COURTESY OF VATICAN NEWS .
Pope Francis highlights the theme of fraternity in a video message for the first International Day of Human Fraternity celebrated on Thursday. He calls for a world of mutual respect, stressing that we can either choose to be brothers and sisters or we lose everything.
LINK TO VIDEO MESSAGE: Human Fraternity Day online event highlights need for solidarity – Vatican News
Pope Francis marked the first-ever International Day of Human Fraternity on Thursday, in a virtual event hosted by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi, with the participation of the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, and other personalities.
During the occasion, the Holy Father, in a video message, expressed his gratitude to those who had contributed to the promotion of fraternity in spite of the challenges.
“Sisters and brothers – that is the word,” the Pope said. “Sisters and brothers to affirm fraternity in a special way to you, my brother, my friend, my companion of challenges and risks in the struggle for fraternity.”
The Pope offered special recognition to the Grand Imam, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, for his testimony and collaboration in writing the document presented two years ago. Pope Francis also expressed his gratitude to the Crown Prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed for his belief in the project, and Judge Abdel Salam for his active participation in its advancement.
“Thank you all for committing to fraternity,” Pope Francis said, “because today fraternity is the new frontier of humanity. Either we are brothers, or we destroy each other.”
Not a time for indifference
Pope Francis went on to insist that “today, there is no time for indifference” and “we cannot wash our hands” off the present situation with distance, disregard and contempt. He affirmed that we are either brothers and sisters, “or everything falls apart,” adding that this is the frontier on which we have to build – “the challenge of our century and the challenge of our times.”
Fraternity, the Pope continued, “means an outstretched hand. Fraternity means respect. Fraternity means listening with an open heart. Fraternity means firmness in one’s own convictions” because “there is no true fraternity if one’s convictions are negotiated.”
Brothers and sisters despite differences
Pope Francis also emphasized that despite differences in cultures and traditions, we are brothers and sisters, “born of the same Father.” In this regard, fraternity must be built, not by negotiation, but through respect for our different cultures and traditions.
“It is the moment of listening. It is the moment of sincere acceptance. It is the moment of certainty that a world without brothers is a world of enemies,” the Pope said.
He further underscored that “we cannot say we are either brothers or not brothers,” stressing rather that “we are either brothers or enemies” because indifference is “a very subtle form of enmity.”
“We do not need to be at war to be enemies, disregarding each other is enough,” the Pope said, adding that it is time to stop the attitude of looking the other way and ignoring others as if they did not exist.
2021 Zayed Award for Human Fraternity
A part of the celebrations for the International Day of Human Fraternity is the presentation of the 2021 Zayed Award for Human Fraternity to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and Moroccan-French activist, Latifa Ibn Ziaten.
Addressing the UN Secretary-General, Pope Francis congratulated him for the award and expressed gratitude for his efforts towards promoting peace “that will only be achieved with a fraternal heart.”
Directing his attention towards the second 2021 Zayed Award honoree, Latifa Ibn Ziaten, the Pope acknowledged her inspiring testimony of painfully losing a child yet channeling her pain towards fostering love and fraternity.
“Yes, sister, your words are not hearsay or a conventional ‘we are all brothers’: they are a conviction. A conviction embodied in pain, in your wounds,” the Pope said.
“Thank you for your testimony,” said Pope Francis. “And thank you for being the mother of your son, of so many boys and girls, for being the mother today of this humanity that is listening to you and learns from you: either the path of fraternity, of brotherhood, or we lose everything.”