Pope Francis Makes A Historic Visit To Iraq, The Cradle Of The Abrahamic Religions
Pope Francis' first apostolic visit for 2021 is finally happening and will be historical by significant proportions. As of writing, Pope Francis has already departed the Leonardo Da Vinci airport bound for Iraq and will be staying there until 8 March 2021. If the papal visit becomes successful, Pope Francis will be the first pope to visit the birthplace of Abraham, the first pope to celebrate Mass in the Chaldean rite, and his papal visit will be the first since the spread of a global pandemic that is still continues to wreck havoc in many parts of the world.
Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI have received the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in the Vatican last January.
In a recent video message to the Iraqi people, Pope Francis clarified that he is coming to their country as a "penitent pilgrim", a "pilgrim of peace", and a "pilgrim of hope". Primarily, his agenda is to reassure the dwindling Christian community in the war-torn country and foster inter-religious dialogue among Muslims and Christians, as well as between Shia and Sunni Muslims.
Pope Francis is scheduled to arrive in Baghdad on Friday afternoon. He will be welcomed by the Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi and Iraqi President Barham Salih. A meeting with the bishops and other clergy follows this at a Syriac Catholic Church, the Our Lady of Salvation. This church was reported as the location where 52 Christians and police were killed in an attack by jihadists, a precursor group to IS in 2010.
On Saturday, the pope will visit the Shia Muslim holy city of Najaf, where he will meet Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. He is the revered spiritual leader in the Shia Muslim community all over the world.
At the ancient site of Ur, the traditionally believed birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, Pope Francis will attend an inter-religious meeting.
On Sunday, he will travel to the northern city of Mosul and say a prayer of suffrage in Church Square for the victims of the war with IS. He will be visiting Qaraqosh as well, a place of refuge for returning Christians since the defeat of IS in 2017. He will be restoring the town's church and participate in the home rebuilding ceremonies.
On that same afternoon, he will celebrate Mass at a stadium in Irbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region. The Iraqi government has lifted its strict lockdowns to accommodate expected thousands of attendees of the historical Eucharistic celebration.
The papal visit is indeed timely and much needed by the Iraqi people, Muslims and Christians alike. In this commentary video from the America-The Jesuit Review, Fr. Christopher Clohessy of the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies said that in this inter-religious dialogue, all must remember that there is no conversion in the agenda but a dialogue of religious differences for peace and community-building.
Read more: Before The Papacy: Francis, Benedict XVI, John Paul II
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