By Vatican News staff writer
Iraq awaits Pope Francis and prays that his visit may not only happen but also bear fruits of dialogue and peace among the people, long-tried by violence and divisions. The strife-torn nation continues to experience tensions not only along its border with Syria but also within, from Nasiriyah to the area of Mosul, which was the capital of the ‘Islamic State’ between 2014 and 2017. Thousands of corpses continue to be unearthed from mass graves in Mosul, indicating the extent of terrorism that reigned there under the terror of the Islamic State.
The Vatican announced on 7 December that the Pope will make an Apostolic Journey to Iraq on 5-8 March 2021, visiting Baghdad, the plain of Ur, Mosul, and Qaraqosh.
Pope’s visit to rekindle hope
“We have been living in fear for some time, but also in hope”, said Cardinal Louis Raphaël Sako, the Patriarch the Chaldean Catholic Church. That was his reaction when the Vatican announced on 7 December that the Pope will make an Apostolic Journey to Iraq, 5-8 March 2021. The Pontiff intends to visit Baghdad, the plain of Ur, Mosul, and Qaraqosh. The cardinal who is Archbishop of Baghdad, regards this as a sign of rebirth for the country, “a new Christmas”.
Prayer for papal visit
In this spirit, Cardinal Sako has composed a prayer asking his Chaldean faithful to recite it together during Masses every Sunday starting on 17 January.
The text of the prayer reads:
Lord our God, grant Pope Francis health and safety to carry out successfully this eagerly awaited visit. Bless his effort to promote dialogue, enhance fraternal reconciliation, build confidence, consolidate peace values and human dignity, especially for us Iraqis who have been through painful “events” that affected our lives.
Lord and Creator, enlighten our hearts with Your light, to recognize goodness and peace, and to realize them.
Mother Mary, we entrust Pope Francis’ visit to your maternal care so that the Lord may grant us the grace of living in full national communion, and to cooperate fraternally to build a better future for our country and our citizens. Amen.
Soon after the announcement of the papal trip, Patriarch Sako had written to the Iraqi people, asking them to prepare adequately for the Pope. He explained that the Pope was not coming on a “tourist” or “luxury” trip but will be on a pilgrimage, bearing a message of comfort “for all at a time of uncertainty”. “We must make it an opportunity for a great change so that faith and hope in us become a commitment,” he wrote.
Revival of Qaraqosh
Meanwhile, preparations are also underway in the northern city of Qaraqosh, which Pope Francis is scheduled to visit. A newly-crafted statue of Our Lady was placed on Thursday on top of the church in Qaraqosh.
The Syrian Catholic church in Qaraqosh, the biggest in the Nineveh Plains, was desecrated and burned by the IS group during their occupation from 2014 until 2016, local parish priest Father Paul Thabit Mekko pointed out. The IS destroyed and devastated homes, churches, the library and other cultural heritage sites. Tens of thousands of people fled in a hurry, abandoning the most important Christian town in the Nineveh Plains.
Signs of looting and devastation were evident everywhere when some people began returning, Father Mekko said. With the effort of Christian charities and other organisations, including the Syrian-Catholic Church, the library reopened in September, and in a short time, became a reference point for the area.
Evangelization and art
When the Church of the Immaculate Conception of Qaraqosh was being rebuilt, they decided to make a new a statue of Our Lady and place it on the bell tower, just as they did two years ago in Karamles. Local Christian artist, Thabit Michael, who carved the statue also made the statue for the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Baghdad.
Father Mekko explained that evangelization in Iraq is also carried out with the help of art which is fundamental to maintaining one’s identity. “Thabit Michael,” he said, “is not only a true artist but also a Christian devoted to his land, who wants to revive it also through his works.” Michael has also created the statue of Our Lady in the oldest and most important church in Mosul, which Christians also hope to rebuild.
However, the task is not easy because of high inflation and the disruption of normal life because of the pandemic.