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Twenty-One Things about Pope Francis in Iraq That Caught My Eye Today (March 5, 2021)

1. Pope Francis at the Syro-Catholic Cathedral of “Our Lady of Salvation” in Baghdad, where 48 people, including women and children and two priests, were martyred in 2010:

What must never be locked down or reduced, however, is our apostolic zeal, drawn in your case from ancient roots, from the unbroken presence of the Church in these lands since earliest times (cf. BENEDICT XVI, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, 5). We know how easy it is to be infected by the virus of discouragement that at times seems to spread all around us. Yet the Lord has given us an effective vaccine against that nasty virus. It is the hope born of persevering prayer and daily fidelity to our apostolates. With this vaccine, we can go forth with renewed strength, to share the joy of the Gospel as missionary disciples and living signs of the presence of God’s kingdom of holiness, justice and peace.

Here’s some video of that stop, to give you an idea of the joy in the midst of suffering. A pope has never been to Iraq before, even though Christians have been there since the beginning of Christianity. JPII wanted to, but couldn’t because of the instability.

2. Luma Simms: Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq answers the prayers of the Christians who refuse to flee — and face extinction

In anticipation of Pope Francis’ visit, NPR conducted interviews with Muslims and Christians in Iraq. It was encouraging to hear from Muslims who care about the Christian community, who care about people of different faiths living together in peace and who are upset about the persecution of their fellow citizens. At the same time, I cannot help but think if there are Muslims in Iraq who feel this way, they must be afraid to advocate for their Christian neighbors; otherwise this horror would not have happened.

3. Kevin Clarke:

There are also diplomatic landmines to navigate over the next three days. Stephen Rasche, a vice chancellor at the Catholic University of Erbil, where he directs the Institute for Ancient and Threatened Christianity, describes Iraq as perhaps the most complicated political environment on earth. Speaking from Erbil in the autonomous Kurdistan region during a National Review Institute briefing on March 4, he said the pope will face a terrific challenge in balancing interests and sensibilities without offending one or another among the region’s fractious religious and ethnic parties.

The pope’s itinerary calls for him to arrive on March 7 in the de facto heartland of the Christian community in Iraq when he visits Erbil, where hundreds of Christian families now live after fleeing the ISIS rampage in 2014, and then travels by helicopter to Qaraqosh in Nineveh. That Christian city is still rebuilding after its sacking by ISIS and a devastating offensive to drive the Islamic militants out. The city’s Christians will no doubt be profoundly heartened by the pope’s visit, a welcome endorsement of their struggle to maintain a remnant Christian presence in Nineveh. But when Francis leaves, the many challenges to Christian viability in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan will remain.

4. Crux: Amid pandemic, pope goes to Iraq to rally fading Christians 

In Iraq, Francis is seeking to not only honor its martyrs but deliver a message of reconciliation and fraternity. That’s a tough sell given the few Christians who remain in Iraq harbor a lingering mistrust of their Muslim neighbors and face structural discrimination that long predated IS and the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that threw the country into chaos.

“The Pope’s visit is to support the Christians in Iraq to stay, and to say that they are not forgotten,” the Chaldean patriarch, Cardinal Luis Sako, told reporters in Baghdad this week. The aim of Francis’s visit, he said, is to encourage them to “hold onto hope.”

“I am the only priest in Mosul. Every Sunday I hold mass at 9 a.m., and only around 70 people attend,” said Father Raed Adil Kelo, parish priest of the Church of the Annunciation in Mosul, the onetime de-facto IS capital.

Before 2003, the Christian population was 50,000, he said. It had dwindled to 2,000 before IS overran northern Iraq.

5. Associated Press: Ahead of Pope visit, survivor recalls Iraq church massacre

One gunman told a mother to quiet her wailing infant. When she was unable, Climis heard the pop of a bullet. The screaming ceased.

6. Frank Rocca and Ghassan Adnan: Pope Francis Calls for Equal Rights for Christians at Start of Iraq Visit

7. Davide Bernocchi (head of Catholic Relief Services in Iraq): Rebuilding in a land of faith: Why Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq matters

I am inspired by Pope Francis’ choice to hold an interreligious meeting in Ur. The ruins of this ancient town represent the birthplace of Abraham, the place he heard God’s voice calling him to a journey of faith. The fact that the pope wants to meet there with leaders of other religious traditions indicates that he does not want to appropriate this highly symbolic place. His message is that Abraham belongs to all his spiritual children in an equal way; therefore, they have to respect each other as brothers and sisters in humanity.

Surely, the pope’s visit will not solve the myriad problems facing the country. Ultimately, it’s up to all of us, as members of the global community, to play a role in supporting this beautiful and unique nation. The international community must remain engaged in helping the Iraqi people.

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9. Who are the Christians of Iraq? A long history in a nutshell

To put it briefly, Iraq has a uniquely rich Aramaic, or Syriac, Christian history.

In this land are found two West Syriac and three East Syriac communities, as well as two communities in communion with the Bishop of Rome and three Churches which are not.

And no mention has been made of the other ethnic (Armenian and Coptic) and Protestant minorities!

Yet, during persecutions, pandemics, and papal visits, Iraqi Christians will certainly resonate with Jesus’ words: “You are all brothers” (Mt 23:8).

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14. Pope urges Iraqi authorities to rebuild society on fraternal solidarity

Pope Francis called for the end to partisan interests, and that the voice of builders, peacemakers, the humble, the poor and the ordinary men and women be heard.

“May there be an end to acts of violence and extremism, factions and intolerance! May room be made for all those citizens who seek to cooperate in building up this country through dialogue and through frank, sincere and constructive discussion.”

For this to happen, the Holy Father said, “it is essential to ensure the participation of all political, social and religious groups and to guarantee the fundamental rights of all citizens.”

“May no one be considered a second-class citizen,” he urged.

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16. Marlo Safi: The Pope’s Visit To Iraq Inspires Hope For the Country’s Christians, But Without Security, They Could Become Extinct

Although United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has provided more than $389 million in support of the Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response initiative to help ethnic and religious minorities after ISIS carried out genocide against them, Kiely and Nadine Maenza told the Caller that Christians are continuing to leave the country due to lack of jobs and security.

“They literally said to me, ‘stop building churches,’” Maenza said. “We can’t live here with nothing. Help us with security, we need jobs for our young people and how can we have jobs if it’s not safe?”

17. Emil Anton: Paradise Lost: The world’s debt to Iraq

The least we all can do for Iraq and Iraqis, I’d like to suggest, is to recognize our debt, pay attention, and show special solidarity. Recognise the Mesopotamian roots of our western culture, pay attention to the upcoming historic Papal visit, and show special solidarity to the Iraqi people – those struggling to rebuild their country at home as well as those who have emigrated to our countries. In a very real sense, their story is our story.

18. Steven Howard: Biden can build on Pope Francis’s visit to Iraq

In particular, the Biden administration could make genocide recovery a major focus in the second round of U.S.-Iraq strategic dialogue, which was a topic of discussion on the Feb. 23 call between Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

The Biden administration could improve America’s genocide response by strengthening oversight with the State Department and USAID. Biden could work to ensure former ambassador Samantha Power, his nominee to lead USAID, has consistent funding to invest in this project long term. After all, the effects of genocide will not be reversed in just two or three years. Furthermore, he should appoint a special envoy for religious minorities in the region, a position mandated by law that no president has filled since its creation in 2014.

19. Fr. Raymond de Souza: Pope Francis’ Iraq Mission Is a Biblical Pilgrimage Completed

There is also a biblical purpose, to honor the role of Abraham, “our father in faith,” in the history of salvation. That is unfinished business from the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. The visit of Pope Francis fulfills the desire of St. John Paul II to visit 21 years ago. Saddam Hussein made the visit impossible.

“The people of Iraq are waiting for us,” said Pope Francis at his Wednesday audience. “They were waiting for Pope St. John Paul II, who was not allowed to go. The people cannot be let down for a second time. Let us pray that this trip can be carried out well.”

John Paul had planned a great biblical pilgrimage for the Jubilee — Egypt for the Exodus, Israel and the Palestinian Authority for the Gospels. In 2001 he would conclude the pilgrimage in the footsteps of St. Paul, visiting Syria, Greece and Malta. But he wanted to begin in Iraq.

20. Andrea Picciotti-Bayer: Pope’s Visit to Iraq Comes at Crucial Time

When ISIS entered Syria, the people of Sreshka knew the terrorists would come after them. It was Nibras’ last day of school. She and her classmates were celebrating completing their final exams. Awards were being handed out and there was music and dancing. Then it happened. “We heard screams, cars, out of nowhere. We turned off the music and sat in silence. We heard in the distance sounds of screaming, kids crying.” Shiite Muslims and Christians fled past. Nibras said barely a word to her friends as they all hurried home. “I don’t remember how I got home. I don’t remember if I ran, if I walked.”

21. Sam Sweeney: Pope Francis in Iraq: Speaking the language of Our Lord

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