Pope Francis voiced a song of gratitude for his trip last weekend to Iraq, saying that it was the fulfillment of John Paul II’s desire, and a sign of hope — the first time a pope has visited the land of Abraham.
The Holy Father said that he felt a “penitential sense” in this pilgrimage. “I could not draw near to that tortured people, to that martyr-Church, without taking upon myself, in the name of the Catholic Church, the cross they have been carrying for years; a huge cross, like the one placed at the entrance of Qaraqosh. I felt it particularly seeing the wounds still open from the destruction, and even more so when meeting and hearing the testimony of those who survived the violence, persecution, exile…”
On the return flight, the pope told journalists how seeing the destruction moved him. “I didn’t imagine the ruins of Mosul, I really didn’t imagine…. Yes, I may have seen things, I may have read the book, but this touches, it is touching,” he said.
The pope lamented how war has marked the history of this people, affirming that “the Iraqi people have the right to live in peace; they have the right to rediscover the dignity that belongs to them.” He reflected how their religious and cultural identity goes back millennia, and the changing face of war has marked it:
Mesopotamia is the cradle of civilization. Historically, Baghdad is a city of primary importance. For centuries, it housed the richest library in the world. And what destroyed it? War. War is always that monster that transforms itself with the change of epochs and continues to devour humanity. But the response to war is not another war; the response to weapons is not other weapons. And I asked myself: Who was selling the weapons to the terrorists? Who sells weapons today to the terrorists – which are causing massacres in other areas, let’s think of Africa, for example? It is a question that I would like someone to answer. The response is not war, but the response is fraternity. This is the challenge not only for Iraq. It is the challenge for many regions in conflict and, ultimately, the challenge for the entire world is fraternity. Will we be capable of creating fraternity among us? Of building a culture of brothers and sisters? Or will we continue the logic Cain began: war. Brothers and sisters. Fraternity.
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Hope in their eyes
But the destruction and the legacy of war was counteracted by the other impression the pope shared: joy and hope
And at the same time, I saw around me the joy of welcoming Christ’s messenger; I saw the hope of being open to a horizon of peace and fraternity, summed up in Jesus’s words that were the motto of the Visit: “You are all brothers” (Mt 23:8).
The pope said he saw hope in faces, heard it in testimonies. “People stood waiting for the Pope for five hours, even women with children in their arms. They waited and there was hope in their eyes.”
God is faithful to His promises and guides our steps toward peace still today. He guides the steps of those who journey on Earth with their gaze turned toward Heaven. And in Ur – standing together under those luminous heavens, the same heavens that our father Abraham saw, we, his descendants – the phrase you are all brothers and sisters seemed to resound once again.
Pope Francis urged the Church to keep the people of Iraq in prayer: “And, please, let us continue to pray for them, our sorely tried brothers and sisters, so they might have the strength to start over. And thinking of the many Iraqis who have emigrated, I want to say to them: you have left everything, like Abraham; like him, keep the faith and hope. Be weavers of friendship and of fraternity wherever you are. And if you can, return.”
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