World Pope Francis urges Iraq’s Muslims, Christians to unite for peace
Francis prepares first-ever papal visit to Iraq
Pope Francis is to start the first-ever papal visit to Iraq on Friday, an act of solidarity with an ancient but dwindling Christian community and a symbolic outreach to Muslims. At the time, Pope Francis endorsed military action against IS and considered visiting northern Iraq in solidarity with Christians there. Video: Iraqi Christians, decimated by Islamist violence, prepare for pope's visit (Reuters) Your browser does not support this video That trip never materialised, but Francis has kept a close eye on Iraq, condemning the killing of unarmed protesters during mass anti-government rallies from 2019.
Pope Francis has urged Iraq’s Muslim and Christian religious leaders to put aside animosities and work together for peace and unity during an interfaith meeting in the traditional birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, father of their faiths.
“This is true religiosity: to worship God and to love our neighbour,” the pontiff told the gathering on Saturday.
Francis travelled to the ruins of Ur in southern Iraq to reinforce his message of inter-religious tolerance and fraternity during the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, a country riven by religious and ethnic divisions.
Pope Francis goes to Iraq to rally fading Christians amid pandemic
Pope Francis heads to Iraq on Friday to urge the country’s dwindling number of Christians to stay put and help rebuild the country after years of war and persecution, brushing aside the coronavirus pandemic and security concerns to make his first-ever papal visit. Iraqis were keen to welcome him and the global attention his visit will bring, with banners and posters hanging high in central Baghdad, and billboards depicting Francis with the slogan "We are all Brothers" decorating the main thoroughfare.
With a magnificent ziggurat nearby, Francis told the faith leaders that it was fitting that they come together in Ur, “back to our origins, to the sources of God’s work, to the birth of our religions” to pray together for peace as children of Abraham, the prophet common to Muslims, Christians and Jews.
“From this place, where faith was born, from the land of our father Abraham, let us affirm that God is merciful and that the greatest blasphemy is to profane his name by hating our brothers and sisters,” he said. “Hostility, extremism and violence are not born of a religious heart: they are betrayals of religion.”
The pope said there could never be peace as long as Iraqis viewed people of different faiths as the “other”.
“Peace does not demand winners or losers, but rather brothers and sisters who, for all the misunderstandings and hurts of the past, are journeying from conflict to unity,” he said.
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Pope Francis trended on Twitter Friday amid his visit to Iraq. The day prior, one social media user declared that he used to work an odd job that could be considered surprising for a pope."I come as a penitent, asking forgiveness from Heaven and our brothers for so much destruction and cruelty; a pilgrim of peace, in the name of Christ, Prince of Peace. How we have prayed, in these years, for peace in #Iraq! God always listens. It is up to us to walk His paths," the pope tweeted Friday.
Although Abraham is considered the father of Christians, Muslims and Jews, no Jewish representative was present at the inter-religious event in Ur.
In 1947, a year before Israel’s birth, Iraq’s Jewish community numbered about 150,000. Now their numbers are in single figures.
A local church official said Jews were contacted and invited but the situation for them was “complicated” particularly as they have no structured community. However, in similar past events in predominantly Muslim countries, a senior foreign Jewish figure has attended.
The pope, who began his three-day visit to Iraq in Baghdad on Friday, was expected to say mass later on Saturday at the capital’s Chaldean Cathedral of Saint Joseph.
Earlier on Saturday. Francis and Iraq’s top Shia Muslim leader delivered a powerful message of peaceful coexistence, urging Muslims in the war-weary Arab nation to embrace Iraq’s long-beleaguered Christian minority during an historic meeting in the holy city of Najaf.
Pope Francis meets with senior Iraqi Shi'ite cleric
Pope Francis has met and spoken to Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani - southern Iraq's top shi'ite cleric - in a historic meeting of Catholic and Shi'ite Muslim leadership.It's part of the first ever papal visit to the Gulf state this weekend.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said religious authorities have a role in protecting Iraq’s Christians, and that Christians should live in peace and enjoy the same rights as other Iraqis. The Vatican said Francis thanked al-Sistani for having “raised his voice in defence of the weakest and most persecuted” during some of the most violent times in Iraq’s recent history.
Al-Sistani, 90, is deeply revered in Shia-majority Iraq and his opinions on religious and other matters are sought by Shia Muslims worldwide.
On Sunday, Francis travels north to Mosul, a former ISIL (ISIS) stronghold, where churches and other buildings still bear the scars of conflict.
Renad Mansour, the project director of the Iraq Initiative and senior research fellow in the Middle East and North Africa programme at Chatham House, told Al Jazeera from London that the words of the pope matter as “they are symbols”.
“It is good for the Christians of Iraq as well as all Iraqis to have senior leaders, senior religious leaders come together and stress the importance of coexistence. But how does that translate into basic human rights, basic citizens’ rights for those Iraqis?” he said.
“From the perspective of the Iraqi leadership, this is a story of Iraq that is not what we have often heard from at least 2003 if not before, a story of conflict, a story of sectarianism. This is a story of trying to look to a better future, but of course, challenges remain.”
Pope's Iraq Trip Must Highlight Precarious Situation of Assyrian Christians | Opinion .
Rather than highlight the plight of Assyrians and other Christian groups in the Middle East, Pope Francis' visit may end up worsening their situation. If this ongoing ethnic cleansing of Assyrians and other minorities from Iraq continues under a veneer of respectability, this will ultimately lead to their complete erasure from their ancestral homeland, as was the case with the Jews of Iraq.Bradley Martin is the executive director for the Near East Center for Strategic Studies.The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.