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Sunday, June 20, 2021

The Pope takes the Road to Babylon March 5-8, 2021!

Francis Walks Among the Treasures of Iraq

by Susan Fox 

Pope Francis disembarks on the first ever papal visit to Iraq on March, 5, 2021
Pope Francis took the road to Babylon, on March 5-8, 2021, in the first ever papal visit to Iraq. He walked the path of pearls.  For the treasure of Iraq is its martyrs. 

The pope spoke where the Church bloomed with its first fruits of the third millennium. When he walked into his first public meeting  in the Syrian-Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation in Bagdad on March 5 everyone there remembered the 48 blossoms — ordinary lay Catholics, including two young priests, a pregnant woman and two small children —  who were killed at Mass on Oct. 31, 2010.

Five ISIS terrorists stormed the cathedral during Mass and massacred these people, but wounded many others. Little 3-year-old Adam shouted at the terrorists, “Enough, enough, enough!” before he was killed. 

Adam’s cry “was the cry of all Iraqi Christians who asked not to die but to be accepted as human beings with their inherent rights,” according to Fr. Luis Escalante, who worked on the diocesan phase of  for the beautification of these martyrs. “In the 21st century, the Church of Babylon has been called to offer her children as precious pearls to the universal Church,” the priest added. 

And the pope came to receive these precious gifts, saying, “Their deaths are a powerful reminder that inciting war, hateful attitudes, violence or the shedding of blood are incompatible with authentic religious teachings.” The Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation itself had been another victim of Islamic explosives, but now it is completely restored. 

Pope Francis came to Iraq despite the Covid plague, two bombings in or near Iraq (one by Iran militias, the other by the U.S.)  and the fear his visit could worsen the Covid pandemic. The Pope endured enormous resistance and risked his life to make this historic visit.

But why did he risk his life? 

"To make sure that Christianity does not disappear from the Middle East and to support the courageous community of believers there," according to Human Rights Expert Dr. Christiaan Alting von Geusau, J.D., LL.M, president and rector of ITI Catholic University in Trumau, Austria. The West scandalously ignored the genocide of the Yazidi and Christians when the Islamic State (ISIS) took over large areas of Iraq seven years ago. (2014-2019)

Dr Christiaan Alting von Geusau, president
and rector of ITI Catholic University in 
Trumau, Austria

“The Pope put it on the map.” said Dr. Geusau “He reminded the largely ignorant media and political leaders in the West that the Christians are the original inhabitants of Iraq, Syria and the surrounding countries. Christianity was born in the Middle East and belongs there!” Other than often propagated, Christians are not alien to the Middle East, but in fact they are among its original inhabitants. What the Holy Father did was “absolutely necessary. The Catholic Church is not going to sit by and watch Christianity being rooted out of the Middle East for good,” Dr. Geusau said. 

When Pope Francis reached Qaraqosh, an ancient Christian stronghold in Northern Iraq where the city’s 50,000 population was forced out in a single night in 2014 by the advancing Islamic State, his message became forgiveness.The Kurdish troops abandoned everyone, and retreated north.Then came the Islamic state with the order to remove the population.  The Iraqi government and U.S. President Barack Obama did nothing while a humanitarian crisis unfolded the likes of which  we have not seen in modern times.  The population was forced to run into the hot desert up a mountain. If you stayed without converting to Islam you would be  killed, enslaved or taxed by the ISIS caliphate. Elderly women in walkers struggled over the mountainous terrain heading for the caves to the north. Meanwhile lack of water killed hundreds of women and children.

It was in Qaraqosh, that Pope Francis spoke of forgiveness in a partly ruined church. While much of the marble in the Church of the Immaculate Conception has been restored, evidence of the ISIS bombing was still strikingly visible. “The road to full recovery may still be long, but I ask you please do not grow discouraged,” the Pope pleaded in his address in Qaraqosh, “Forgiveness is necessary to remain in love, to remain Christian.”

Finally, on March 7 he spoke of mercy in Erbil, site of the Iranian militia bombings on Feb. 15, 2021. He reminded us that Christ is the power and the wisdom of God. (1Cor. 1:22-25) Christ revealed that wisdom not by displays of strength, but by giving his life on the cross. This was the piece de resistance of all the papal talks. The temptation is to react to the wounds of war and violence with human power and human wisdom and human anger. But Christ leads us along the paths of Providence. He invites us to rest in in His wounds. It’s the only place to find peace in the middle of such traumatic events.   

In Erbil, the pope reminded us the Church is sometimes not doing its missionary duty, bringing the richness of the Christian gospel to the entire world. “He (Christ) liberates us from the narrow and divisive notions of family, faith and community that divide, oppose and exclude, so that we can build a Church and a Society open to everyone and concerned for our brothers and sisters in greatest need,”

He was clearly talking about the Good Samaritan, who put aside his sectarian differences and rescued an injured Jew, who had been set upon by bandits. The injured Jew was ignored by his own countrymen — a priest and a levite — before the Samaritan came along. Jews and Samaritans endured a long standing rivalry. But it was the Samaritan who saw the man, bandaged his wounds, brought him to an inn and paid for his care until he recovered. 

The pope’s treatment of the issue of the genocide of the Yazidis showed this same Christian missionary zeal for a group of people who do not share our common Christian beliefs, but they share our humanity. Yazidis are older than Islam, and believe in a mixture of Islam, Christianity and Zoroastrianism.

Pope Francis vists a country still in ruins in Mosul 

“How cruel it is that this country, the cradle of civilisation, should have been afflicted by so barbarous a blow, with ancient places of worship destroyed and many thousands of people — Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, and others — forcibly displaced or killed,” the pope said in Mosul, “Today, however, we reaffirm our conviction that fraternity is more durable than fratricide, that hope is more powerful than hatred, that peace is more powerful than war.” 

Besides that, the pope participated in an inter-religious ceremony at Ur, the birthplace of Abraham. And he met with Ayatollah Sayyid al-Sistani, the leader of Iraq's Shiite Muslims. The pope thanked him for speaking up in defenced of the "most vulnerable 

and persecuted” during the years of ISIS violence in Iraq.

Speaking to reporters on his return trip from Iraq on March 8, Pope Francis candidly admitted that his own Catholics often think he is “one step away from heresy” when he talks about inter-religious harmony. But he feels “restless for fraternity” with non-Christians. The Catholic Church does teach that God is the Father of mankind. That means that every human being can hunger and thirst for the one true God and find Him in his own circumstances of life. Whether they recognise Him or not the grace of their salvation comes through Christ, through His Catholic Church.