Pax Christi’s statement on Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq

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3 March 2021 — With great joy, Pax Christi International (PCI) looks forward to the visit of Pope Francis to Iraq, which will take place from 5 to 8 March 2021 in Ur of the Chaldeans in the land of Abraham. He will bring a message of hope, dialogue, and peace in keeping with his latest encyclical Fratelli Tutti.

The destructive violence of ISIS has swept the region. Wars have shown the interests of foreign powers. Forces that are aggravating divisions along ethnic and religious lines fuel hatred and devastation. Dialogue and perseverance in a common search for truth stand as an alternative to the war, violence, and fundamentalism that have devastated the people and communities in the region. As a cradle of civilisation, Iraq has a richness of ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity reaching back thousands of years.

We express new hope that his meeting with leaders of other traditions and religions in Ur of the Chaldeans will help us to rediscover the common roots of faith. These offer each community the needed conditions for a future of peace and reconciliation.

For many years, PCI and several of its members have cultivated close bonds of friendship and solidarity with Iraq through numerous solidarity visits and campaigns. In 2009 His Eminence Louis Raphaël I Sako, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans and head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, welcomed a PCI delegation to Iraq, including Bishop Emeritus Marc Stenger (Co-President, PCI) and Marie Dennis (past Co-President, PCI). They witnessed the courage of many who promote dialogue, reconciliation, and nonviolence.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the fragile security situation, Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq is in itself a powerful nonviolent action. It pushes back violence and makes more visible Iraqis of all faiths who are striving for just peace.

His trip reminds us of the long list of violence and wars that have affected communities in Iraq, resulting in deaths and displacement of thousands. There have been long lasting sanctions punishing ordinary people, bombs with depleted uranium and white phosphorus, environmental devastation, destruction of infrastructures, killings and kidnappings by ISIS that have trapped women in sexual slavery. As witnessed by Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad of the Yazidi minority, they are victims even today.

We hope that Pope Francis’ trip will mark a turning point in the commitment to peace and a decisive denunciation of the war, “an adventure without return” in the prophetic words of St John Paul II and will strengthen the church’s role as a builder of bridges.

We invite all our members to accompany Pope Francis with our prayers for the people of Iraq, stricken by tragic episodes of violence, so that they may find the way of reconciliation, peace, and stability.  We think about the minorities and in particular the Christian minority who continue to be threatened.

Pax Christi International stands in solidarity with all communities of faith, and with all nonviolent peace activists who advocate democratisation and the rule of law, and who stand up for the rights of all.

“In the desert, law will dwell and justice will reign in the garden. The effect of justice will be peace.” (Isaiah 32:16-17)

Photo of St. Matthew Monastery (Der Mar Matti), a Syriac Orthodox monastery overlooking the Nineveh Plains towns of Bashiqa and Bartella, in between the Kurdistan Region and Iraq; attribution, Levi Clancy, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons