Earlier this week, Pope Francis made a historic four day visit to Iraq. There were some who were concerned about the timing of this trip in the context of a global pandemic and possible gatherings becoming super spreading events. There were also concerns about the security situation in Iraq. Despite these concerns, Pope Francis proceeded with the tour visiting six cities including Mosul and Qaraqosh in northern Iraq. In Mosul, he stood amongst the ruins of churches that were destroyed by militants of the Islamic State group between 2014 and 2017. There used to be 500 Christian families in this city, many have fled, others have been afraid to return. Currently there are only 70 Christian families living in Mosul. In offering prayers for all the victims of war and armed conflict, Pope Francis said,
“Today, however, we reaffirm our conviction that fraternity is more durable than fratricide, that hope is more powerful than hatred, that peace is more powerful than war. This conviction speaks with greater eloquence than the passing voices of hatred and violence, and it can never be silenced by the blood spilled by those who pervert the name of God to pursue paths of destruction.”
He went further, saying,
“If God is the God of life – for so he is – then it is wrong for us to kill our brothers and sisters in his name.
If God is the God of peace – for so he is – then it is wrong for us to wage war in his name.
If God is the God of love – for so he is – then it is wrong for us to hate our brothers and sisters.”
During the trip, Pope Francis also visited the city of Ur which is the birthplace of Abraham – the father of the faith for the Jews, Muslims and Christians alike. He also met with different Christian and Muslim leaders as he wanted to proclaim “our conviction that religion must serve the cause of peace and unity among all God’s children.”
While visiting the city of Najaf, Pope Francis met with the chief figure in Shia Islam, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Following this meeting, the Vatican indicated that Pope Francis emphasised the importance of mutual respect and dialogue as a way of contributing to the good not just of Iraq, but all of humanity. In return the Grand Ayatollah “affirmed his concern that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights”.
The prophetic presence of Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq reminded many of the determination and fidelity of the small Christian community in Iraq and their need for protection. I have been deeply moved by the presence of Pope Francis and the faith of our brothers and sisters, who despite great suffering and persecution in recent years, continue to be people who are filled with the hope of the resurrection of Christ.
In 2019, the International Commission on the Apostolate of Jesuit Education issued Jesuit Schools: A Living Tradition in the 21st Century – an ongoing Exercise of Discernment. This contemporary expression of Jesuit education outlines 10 Global identifiers of Jesuit schools. The first identifier is: “Jesuit schools are committed to being Catholic and to offer in-depth faith formation in dialogue with other religions and worldviews”. Pope Francis has modelled this for us in this past week. As we continue along our Lenten journey, preparing to celebrate Holy Week – especially the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus – may our own faith be strengthened through the hope-filled example of our fellow Christians in Iraq.
Wishing you all every blessing.