The Weekend of March 3rd through the 7th saw one of the most anticipated Papal visits to a country in recent memory. The timing was perfect. This was the first trip that the Pontiff made in over a year. The country in question has had several internal challenges over the last few years as well.
His Holiness Pope Francis paid a visit to Iraq during this timeframe. To state that this visit was full of symbolism would be an understatement. This visit resulted from the invitation of local Muslim leaders as well as Iraqi President Barham Salih back in 2019.The Christian Communities in Iraq have suffered various hardships since the ouster of Saddam Hussein back in 2003 and from weak governments that have ruled in Baghdad since.
One of the key themes that the emphais by the Pointiff was focused on was that all faith groups in Iraq were Iraqis. Even before the arrival of His Holiness documents were shared from the Vatican which were also written in Syriac and Amhariac the local languages used in the local liturgies to promote the theme that all of Christians are not only each others brothers but also with the Yazidis and the Muslims as well.
Another theme that was promoted was that this was a pilgrimage by the Holy Father not only to support the Christian Community in Iraq but also to visit some of the sites destroyed by the Islamic State when the controlled large swaths of the country. One example of this was the visit to the Church of the Holy Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh which at one time was the largest Christian city in Iraq. He also prayed among the destroyed churches in the city of Mosul before ending his trip in Erbil.
Another key site visited during the visit was the city of Ur. This is the traditional birthplace of the patriarch Abraham who is revered not only among Christians but also among Muslims and Jews as well.
The visit should be considered a success by reminding the dwindling Christian Community in the Country that they are not forgotten. The Pope also encouraged those who still remain in the country. Sadly the Christian population has shrunk from 1.3 million people that lived in the country before the invasion by the United States in 2003 to an estimated 400,000 now. This number amounts to roughly 1% of the total population of Iraq.
The current political climate within Iraq is not a paradigm of optimism. Recent attacks by Shia militias in the Baghdad area shows just how tenuous the security situation is in the country. Although the Christian Community have not been targeted by these attacks these people remain on edge.
However the words of the Holy Father when he spoke in Mosul should remind us of our faith. “Today, however, we affirm our conviction that fraternity is more durable than fratricide, that hope is more powerful than hatred, that peace is more powerful than war.” These words were not uttered for just the Christian communities but for all Iraqis. That is a powerful sentiment and a prayer as well.