Friday, March 5, 2021

Pope Francis Begins His Long-Awaited "Pilgrimage" to Iraq

Today Pope Francis embarks upon his first international journey in over a year. He is visiting the much-beleagured and suffering peoples of Iraq, the ancient peoples of Mesopotamia, of the land of Abraham's birth. Today they are mostly Muslims, but they are divided between Sunnis and Shiites living at the edge of the Arab world and on the border with "Persia" (Iran).

The recent wars and their violent civil consequences have driven many of the Chaldean Catholic Christians into exile, but there remains in Iraq a remnant of one of the most ancient Christian communities in the world. They sing their beautiful liturgy in Aramaic, the spoken language of Jesus and the Apostles.

The pastoral solicitude of Pope Francis for Iraq continues (and extends) the concern and attention of his predecessors. I shall never forget the passionate persistence of Saint John Paul II who gave such prophetic witness beginning 30 years ago: how he continually warned the West of the destructiveness and grave dangers of its misguided policies of war and crippling economic sanctions in this region. The modern nation-state of Iraq has always been fragile ever since it was created (artificially) by the European victors of World War I. It has always been difficult (but important) to preserve peace and build fraternity in this precious place, with its imperilled yet tenacious Christian minority, its depth of religious and human culture, and the divisions among its peoples.

Francis knows well his mission here. It is to witness to Jesus's gift of salvation through practical cultivation of conversion of hearts, forgiveness, and the love of one another to which we are all called. Jesus has revealed the mystery of this fraternal love to the world. It is His presence - revealing the Father's love as the true meaning of our lives - that works to draw the hearts of every person beginning from wherever they are on their individual and communal journeys. With intense esteem for everyone and reverence before the mysterious ways of God, the Pope will witness by his very presence that Jesus is the vital heart of our real common humanity - the One who fills history and makes us all brothers and sisters.

As always, the fruits of this courageous gesture are in the Lord's hands.