By Christopher Wells
The Higher Committee for Human Fraternity hosted the webinar on “A Moment of Human Fraternity: The impact of Pope Francis’ historic Iraq visit” on Thursday.
The event brought together religious and civic leaders from throughout the Middle East to share their insights on the significance of the Pope’s Apostolic Journey to Iraq, and offer their thoughts on the next steps in rebuilding Iraq, and how the country can promote stabilization, reconciliation, and hope for a better future.
A wonderful mosaic for human coexistence
The Secretary-General of the Higher Committee, Judge Mohamed Abdelsalam, opened the webinar, explaining, “We are gathered here today to think together about how we can invest this visit of the Pope and help our brethren in beloved Iraq, a country that constitutes a beautiful social fabric and a wonderful mosaic for human coexistence.”
This beautiful picture, however, has been marred by wars, conflicts and terrorism, which have “left a great wound in the body of Iraq.”
The struggles of Iraq “moved the Holy Father, who could not see the tears of this people without wanting to wipe them away.”
Judge Abdelsalam assured participants that the Higher Committee would “do its best to build on this historic visit of the Holy Father,” adding that he hoped that the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar would also be able to visit Iraq, in order “to complete the picture of Human Fraternity.”
We are all brothers
Among the keynote speakers at the webinar was Cardinal Luis Raphaël I Sako, the Patriarch of Babylon and head of the Chaldean Catholic Church. He expressed his hope that participants would “reach a vision and a work plan to implement what the Pope indicated in his speeches and meetings.”
Cardinal Sako explained that Pope Francis, coming to Iraq in the midst of conflicts, extremism, and the coronavirus pandemic, carried with him a “single influential message”: “We are all brothers in spite of our differences, we must respect our diversity and join hands to build a better society.”
The Patriarch noted that the Pope also pointed out “the only way to walk the path of achieving peace, stability, freedom, and dignity for every human being is to restrain weapons.”
A milestone for interreligious dialogue
The President of the Pontifical Council for Intereligious Dialogue, Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, said, “The entire trip to Iraq was significant. Every moment was marked by gestures and words that leave a mark.” Along with the signing of the Document on Human Fraternity in Abu Dhabi in 2019, the Iraq visit was a “milestone in the path of interreligious dialogue.”
Echoing the Patriarch, Cardinal Ayuso said Pope Francis, “went to Iraq as a pastor to tell Iraqis: You are all brothers.” This is not simply a “theoretical brotherhood,” Cardinal Ayuso explained. Instead, it is a call for everyone “to commit themselves ‘so that God’s dream may come true: that the human family may become hospitable and welcoming toward all of its children, who, looking at the same sky, walk in peace on the same earth.’”
Cardinal Ayuso highlighted the Pope’s courtesy visit to Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani as a “truly important” contribution to building fraternity among Christians and Muslims.
Similarly, the prayer meeting on the Plains of Ur – the home of Abraham, the father of the three great monotheistic religions – “was an opportunity to pray together with believers from other religious traditions … in order to rediscover the reason for coexistence between brothers, so as to rebuild a social fabric beyond factions and ethnicities, and to send a message to the Middle East and to the entire world.” In Ur, he continued, the Pope explained that “true religiosity” is that which “worships God and loves one’s neighbour.”
Thursday’s webinar also included the Assistant Director-General of UNESCO, Ernesto Ottone Ramirez who, along with Dominican Father Olivier Poquillon, highlighted UNESCO’s “Revive the Spirit of Mosul” initiative.
Culture ministers from Iraq and the UAE emphasized the common challenges facing the peoples of the region. Representatives of Iraq’s Islamic community – Dr Sayyed Jawad Al-Khoei, the co-founder of the Iraqi Council for Interfaith Dialogue; and Sheich Abdel-Wahab Taha Al-Sammerai, Imam of Abu Hanifa mosque in Baghad – also spoke at the event.