5 points to keep in mind for Pope Francis’ trip to Iraq
On Friday, Pope Francis will begin his 33rd trip as pope. Iraq will be the 52nd country he visits.
1. WHY NOW?
The danger is that the trip could lead to further spread of the coronavirus. Nevertheless, Iraqi authorities decided to move forward with preparations. While rich countries debate whether or not to close restaurants to avoid contagion, the situation in Iraq is quite different.
The economy is in shambles and morale, like many buildings, has been razed to the ground. If for the Western world the coronavirus has been hell, for Iraqi’s inhabitants, the pandemic is just another cause of suffering added to its long list of tragedies: the most recent, ISIS.
The government considers the pope’s visit a top priority because it could help boost morale, draw attention to Iraq and promote peace between ethnic and religious groups. It’s an important objective, and who knows when such an opportunity will present itself again? The last opportunity was missed 20 years ago.
The Iraqi people are waiting for us. They waited for St. John Paul II, who was forbidden from traveling there. One cannot disappoint a people for the second time. Let us pray that this will be a good trip.
2. RELIGIOUS SITUATION IN IRAQ
Pope Francis will visit a Christian minority persecuted and decimated by ISIS. Statistics show that in the early 2000s, Christians numbered 1.5 million, more than six percent of the population. In 2015, they were reduced to 300,000.
3. INTERRELIGIOUS MEETING IN UR
Abraham’s first appearance in the bible is in Ur, the land of the Chaldeans. There he begins his faith journey. That’s why the pope and other religious leaders chose this place to join together in prayer.
This meeting will strengthen the fraternity between members of other religions and be a stand against fundamentalism.
4. MEETING WITH ALI AL SISTANI
In 2019 Pope Francis signed a document on Human Fraternity with the imam of al-Azhar, a Sunni leader. On Saturday, the pope will meet with a Shia leader, Ali al-Sistani.
This doesn’t mean al-Sistani will sign the document on fraternity, but welcoming Pope Francis is a good sign of openness: openness to Christians, to show that they are not second-class citizens in Iraq. The meeting is also a message against fundamentalism because all Muslims will be able to witness one of their most influential leaders welcoming a pope into his home.
5. BREAKDOWN OF THE TRIP
The pope will begin his trip to Iraq on Friday with a speech to the country’s civil authorities. That’s where he will communicate his most political message. Then he will visit the cathedral that was attacked by Islamic State terrorists in 2010.
On Saturday he will strengthen ties with other religions. That’s when he will visit Ali al-Sistani and participate in the interreligious meeting in Ur
Sunday will be dedicated to Christians and all people affected by war. The pope will visit the cities of Erbil, Mosul and Qaraqosh. In Mosul, the capital of the caliphate, he will pray for victims of violence.
This is the first trip Pope Francis takes in more than a year. The last time he left Italy was in November 2019, when he visited Thailand and Japan.