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12 April 2021

IRAQ (From Mons. Jean Sleiman OCD)

Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq, so ardently longed for by the Holy Father but so frequently postponed, finally took place from March 5-8, 2021.  It has been seen unanimously as an historic event.  It has certainly been the first visit of a Pope to Iraq.  But, above all, it was a visit to the men and women of an immensely rich country that has been at the mercy of the most selfish and destructive international conflicts.  It is a visit that will be inscribed in history as an heroic gesture of the Holy See against war and as being an effort to promote human rights and religious freedom of conscience.

In the footsteps of Abraham, the Holy Father wishes to reawaken true faith in God in a predominantly Muslim country.  It is a country where fanaticism remains a constant danger, where Jidad, especially that of the Islamic State, has uprooted a 2000 year old Church, condemning over a million of its faithful to exile, leaving the future in doubt and shrouding the present in fear and trepidation.

The visit was short and rapid.  The Pope met official authorities and representatives of various religions.  He managed to dedicate about 30 minutes to reciting the Sunday Angelus in a large Christian village in the Plain of Ninive, a region that has been humiliated, vandalised and emptied of its inhabitants by the Islamic State.  Shortly before this, he spent a while  recollected in prayer in the heaet of the city of Mosul.  This city has also been  ravaged and destroyed by the same Islamic State which had eliminated many Muslims as well as persecuting Christians and Yazidis.  The Holy Father concluded his visit with Papal Mass at a stadium in Erbil, capital of the Kurd region.

The visit was indeed historic because the Pope presented himself as humble and loving, a witness to truth and hope.

+ Jean Benjamin Sleiman,  Latin Archbishop of Baghdad