Pope Francis embarks on a historic visit to Iraq hoping to help bridge the religious divide among citizens. His mission shows the importance of love, solidarity, and understanding amongst each other.
By Emmanuel Simon
The Christians in Iraq have been persecuted unceasingly by the Islamic State of Iraq. Churches are bombed, Christians die a bloody death, and men, women, and children are kidnapped. Christians within Iraq are the minority, where only 3-4% of the population is Christian. It is therefore fitting that The Holy Father, Pope Francis, paid a visit to the people in Iraq in order to spark hope and promote peace.
The Pope’s travel to Iraq was no ordinary visit. In fact, Pope Francis is the first Pope in all of 2000 years of history to set foot on the birthplace of the Old Testament Abraham. His visit brought joy to the Christians in Iraq, but not without a bit of controversy.
Some were concerned for the Pope’s safety due to the lack of security. and the rise of COVID within Baghdad. In 2014, Islamic terrorists attempted to capture the city of Baghdad, and appeared to succeed from 2014-2016, until the Iraqi forces recaptured the city in 2016. Given targeted kidnappings towards Christians, some thought that those who are part of ISIS would attempt to capture, harm, and even kill the Pope. This, however, is no longer worth worrying about since the Holy Father safely returned back to Rome.
Others were worried about the Pope and the Iraqi people’s safety because of the current COVID outbreak in Iraq. Before the Pope’s visit, there was an average of 3,400 new cases daily. People were worried that Francis' visit was an occasion for people to gather, causing the virus to spread at significantly higher rates. But in a place where guns and rockets are often carelessly shot by terrorists, COVID is not the main concern. Still, the vaccinated Pope, Vatican, and the Iraqi authorities took what they thought were necessary precautions in order to prevent COVID from spreading, while simultaneously allowing the Pope to spread his message of hope and peace.
In his homily delivered at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Baghdad, Pope Francis told the Iraqi Christians, “God’s witnesses… are constantly hopeful, because (they are) grounded in the love that ‘bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.’” The Pope wanted to commend the forgotten Christians’ love. Through love, the Christian people of Iraq have been able to bear and endure trials by placing their faith and hope in Christ.
The Pope’s message of peace was two-fold, as he sought to promote a human fraternity along with tolerance. In line with his latest Encyclical Fratelli Tutti, the Pope wished for the future of Iraq to be one absent of war amongst her people, where a human fraternity takes place. Through such a fraternity, the people in Iraq could see each other as brothers and sisters who share a common humanity and are made in the image and likeness of God.
Through a human fraternity, the Pope wishes that Christians and non-Christians within Iraq will be more tolerant of each other. Given that a Muslim in Iraq would like to see a Christian become Muslim and vice-versa, it is counterintuitive for one person to put the other to death. It is, therefore, the hope of the Pope that through tolerance, the Christian persecutors can put down their arms and engage in a brotherly dialogue instead.
But what does this mean for our school community? As people living in the 21st century, we are often tempted to put ourselves and others into artificial categories while equating our and other people's identities with those categories. For example, one person might be categorized and therefore identify as a white male who is cis-gendered, body-abled, and Jewish, while another might be catergoized as a poor person of color who is also a Christian. But, for the Holy Father, this is a mistake. Seeing the image of God in one’s neighbor, all persons of different backgrounds can come together in solidarity. The poor person is brother or sister to the rich, the white man is a brother to the black man, and so on. Only through recognizing the image of God in the other can oppression come to an end, and fruitful dialogue begin. We are therefore called to transcend the restrictive realm of identity politics which divides us, and become conscious of our shared identity which unites us as persons made in God’s image.
Melanie Moyer '22,