“I have long wished to get to know the people in Iraq who have suffered so much,” said Pope Francis. His visit to Iraq, which lasts until Monday, is also an event of the century for Christians in Iraq: It is the first visit by a head of the Catholic Church to the crisis country and also the Pope’s first trip abroad since the beginning of the corona pandemic. Despite the massive increase in the number of infections in Iraq, Francis was greeted by cheering crowds in Baghdad yesterday.
In his speech to representatives of politics, religion and society, the Pope emphasized that he comes as a “penitent” in view of the cruelty that Iraq had to endure. In it he once again called for peace and “fraternal coexistence”: “The guns should be silent!”
Iraqi President Barham Salih also spoke out in favor of religious tolerance and reconciliation: The presence of the highest representative of the Catholic Church fills the Iraqis with pride, and thanked the Pope for the “historic visit”.
Iraq is one of the regions of origin of Christianity. As early as the second century AD, the Babylonian Chaldeans founded their first communities in ancient Mesopotamia. More than a million Christians once lived in the predominantly Muslim Iraq. Today it is estimated to be 250,000 to 400,000. No wonder: under Saddam Hussein, Christians were still largely equal or – as a minority – even privileged – from then on they became the target of terrorists. The terror regime of the militias of the “Islamic State” (IS) was particularly deadly.
“Only the old ones stayed”
Whoever could went away. The escape continues to this day. Several hundred would leave the country every month. The Chaldean Father Lallo knows that after the bitter experiences of the last few years they would have “finished with Iraq”. “Only the elderly want to stay in their homeland to wait for death,” says the clergyman, describing the gloomy situation. The fact that the Holy Father is now coming to Iraq is a sign of hope for them.
Pope Francis has a dense program that takes him through all regions: One of the highlights today is a meeting with the most important Shiite cleric in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. In addition, an interreligious encounter in the plane of Ur, from which, according to biblical tradition, Abraham originated, is on the agenda. In the north, the Pope wants to visit the city of Mosul, which used to be the most important stronghold of the IS terrorist militia. At the end of the trip, he celebrates a mass in the Kurdish regional capital Erbil, to which up to 10,000 believers are expected.
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