"I come as a pilgrim of peace," Pope Francis declared earlier this week ahead of his first international trip in over a year. Today, he continued his visit to Iraq and over 10,000 are expected to attend a Sunday event in Erbil. FRANCE 24 adds, "The trip taking the Pope all over. From the Shia heartland in the south to the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, Erbil and the second city Mosul, still bombed out from the days when Isis claimed it as its capital." Pope Francis meeting with many Iraqis:
Historic Meet: Pope Francis Meets Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani
Pope Francis on Saturday told Iraq’s Catholics that they are precious in the eyes of God because they witness to the Beatitudes of Jesus in their daily life. He said they are witnesses who, by living the Beatitudes, are helping God fulfil His promises of peace.
The Pope made the observation in the homily during his first public Eucharistic Celebration, called the Divine Liturgy in the Chaldean rite and in other Eastern rites, which he presided over in the evening in Saint Joseph’s Chaldean Cathedral in the capital, Baghdad.
He based his homily on the day’s reading on the Beatitudes from St. Matthew’s Gospel, and explained the wisdom of the Beatitudes and how they are practiced in daily life to help fulfil God’s promises.
Wisdom of the Beatitudes
The Pope pointed out that the search for wisdom has always attracted men and women. But often those with more means can acquire more knowledge and have greater opportunities, while those who have less are side-lined.
“Such inequality, which has increased in our time,” the Pope said, “is unacceptable." However, the Book of Wisdom reverses this logic, when its says, “the lowliest may be pardoned in mercy, but the mighty will be mightily tested.” The more powerful are subjected to rigorous scrutiny, while the least are God’s privileged ones.
Throughout the trip, the Pope has visited with various Iraqis. Among the most talked about encounters is his visit with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. CNN's Delia Gallagher Tweets:
Calling the meeting "historic," Adela Suliman (NBC NEWS) reports that the two met at al-Sistani's Najaf home:
"Religious and spiritual leadership must play a big role to put a stop to tragedy," Sistani, the spiritual leader of millions of Shiite Muslims, said in a statement after the meeting.
He also called for "wisdom" to prevail and "erase the language of war."
The pontiff met with the ascetic, and somewhat reclusive spiritual figure, for 45 minutes at Sistani's humble home, along a narrow alleyway near the golden-domed Imam Ali shrine.
AFP notes that the two met for 50 minutes and that al-Sistani's office declared that the Grand Ayatollah "affirmed his concern that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights." ARAB NEWS quotes Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni stating, that Pope Francis "stressed the importance of cooperation and friendship between religious communities in contributing, through the cultivation of mutual respect and dialogue, to the good of Iraq, the region and the entire human family." Nicole Winfield and Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) report, "Later in the day, the pope attended a gathering of Iraqi religious leaders in the deserts near a symbol of the country’s ancient past — the 6,000-year-old ziggurat in the Plains of Ur, also the traditional birthplace of Abraham, the biblical patriarch revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims. The joint appearance by figures from across Iraq’s sectarian spectrum was almost unheard-of, given their communities’ often bitter divisions." ARAB NEWS adds, "At Our Lady of Salvation church, he paid tribute to the 58 people who were killed in an extremist attack in 2010, one of the deadliest targeting Christians." Tomorrow? BBC NEWS notes, "On Sunday, the Pope will visit Mosul - a former IS stronghold for three years - where he will say prayers in Church Square for the victims of the war with the Sunni Muslim militant group, which left tens of thousands of civilians dead. He will then visit Iraq's largest church, which was partly destroyed by IS, in nearby Qaraqosh, where Christians have returned since the group's defeat." Nicole Winfield adds, "Francis will travel by helicopter across the Nineveh plains to the small Christian community of Qaraqosh, where only a fraction of families have returned after fleeing the IS onslaught in 2014."
FRANCE 24's Francois Picard hosted a discussion on the visit with panelists Father Patrick Desbois, NOUVEL OBS' Sara Daniel and ASKA NEWS' Iacopo Scaramuzzi.
"Historic" also describes the trip itself, Francis is the first pope to visit Iraq. The closest a pope has previously come? In 1999, Pope John Paul II had planned to visit Iraq but had to postpone it. Pope Francis arrived yesterday and Australia's ABC notes he declared, "May the clash of arms be silenced . . . may there be an end to acts of violence and extremism." Robin Gomes (VATICAN NEWS) notes a victim of violence, Yazidi Nadia Murad, the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner, signed "an open letter by several international NGOs and Iraq’s civil society groups, welcoming the current visit of Pope Francis to her native Iraq. The letter, signed by 34 organizations, calls for adequate protection for the minority communities of Iraq, which are being threatened by terrorist groups and also by unjust laws."
THE DETROIT FREE PRESS' Sally Tato Snell is in Iraq covering the Pope's visit and notes:
I really never thought I’d still be waiting in 2021. By now, I should have walked down the streets in Baghdad that my mom and dad took to school in the 1950s, stood on the banks of the Tigris River where my dad and uncle used to swim as boys, touched the home where my mom’s mom made traditional beef and bulgur kubba by the dozens for her brother’s hotel and looked for the diner on Rashid Street where my dad’s dad was a cook. I should have visited the village farms where my grandparents were born in northern Iraq, prayed in the churches they knelt in and stepped on the paths they took on their wedding days.
The palm trees, the donkey cart delivering ice, the movie theaters showing Westerns, the strict Catholic teachers at the Jesuit school and the boys playing handball on the side of a building. This is all part of the Iraq in my mind, the one that comes from stories I’ve been told and begged to hear and, as I got older, prodded out from my parents and grandparents with the curiosity of a journalist.
I’ve used newspapers, social media and published books to help fill in the gaps of sights in Iraq until war and politics and safety and now, a pandemic, are no longer reasons not to travel.
All this week, though, I looked forward to the Pope’s visit, not just for the sake of the historic trip, but because, selfishly, I knew it might mean unprecedented media coverage and access to life in Iraq that we don’t often see in stories that cover the bombings and strife and fallout from a war long ago, and the violence that persists today. The Pope is traveling a path similar to one my grandparents took when they moved from a village in northern Iraq to Baghdad. He’ll see joyous faces and hear ancient music and witness centuries-old culture and architecture. And, because of that, so will we. I’m excited for that, for the chance to color in more of the black and white images in my mind. I’m grateful, too, because our roots are so much about who we are and, until I can see Iraq for myself, I’ll gladly have the Pope get me there.
The United Nations notes:
Special Adviser and Head of the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD) Karim Khan, welcomed the historic visit of Pope Francis to Iraq, and the message it carries to all communities, "who have severely suffered from the atrocities perpetrated by ISIL".
“The Pope’s visit to Iraq, his meetings with Iraqi religious leaders and the religious sites he is visiting carry a unifying message of peace and coexistence among all communities in Iraq, especially those who have suffered at the hands of ISIL from all faiths, including the Christian community,” said the Special Adviser, in a news release on Friday.
He added that “the fact that the Christians of Iraq will receive communion from the Holy Father in Iraq is a huge and momentous event. In particular, His Holiness’ visits to Mosul and Qaraqosh, and his prayer of sufferage for the victims of war at the Church square of Hosh al-Bieaa; one place that was ravaged by ISIL crimes, will obviously be a deeply personal moment for many of the Christian flock in Iraq. It will also underline that Iraq is enriched by people of all faiths - and from all ethnic groups - and that every life matters.”
The Special Adviser added that the pursuit of accountability in fair trials is crucial to achieving the healing and reconciliation that the Pope will call for.
UNESCO also noted that the visit to Mosul carries particular significance, as the city – one of the oldest in the world, and a cultural and religious centre for centuries – suffered extensive damage during the occupation by ISIL extremists between 2014-2017.
During those three years, various battles took place, leaving Mosul in ruins, its heritage sites reduced to rubble, religious monuments and cultural antiquities damaged, and thousands of Moslawis – as the city’s inhabitants are known – displaced, leaving them scarred and with immense humanitarian needs.
Following the city’s liberation, UNESCO together with partners, including the Iraqi Government, has been working to preserve and promote its rich and diverse cultural and religious heritage, as well as prevent violent extremism through education.
“It is through education and culture that Iraqis, men and women alike, will be able to regain control of their destiny and become actors in the renewal of their country”, Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General, said in a message.
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