Catholics in Iraq are praying that Pope Francis’s visit to the country will not only push through, but will also foster peace and dialogue between religions that have been long-divided and tried by violence.
Last December 7, the Vatican confirmed that the Pope has finally scheduled his first international visit since the pandemic started. His first tour will be in Iraq, where he will be visiting Baghdad, the plain of Ur, Mosul, and Qaragosh from March 5 to 8, 2021. (Read: Pope Confirms First International Visit Since Start of Pandemic)
Cardinal Louis Raphaël Sako, Archbishop of Baghdad, says the papal visit is a sign of rebirth or “a new Christmas” for Iraq. “We have been living in fear for some time, but also in hope”, he said.
Papal Visit in Iraq
In the past two decades, Christian presence in Iraq has been diminishing due to terror activities led by the Islamic State. In fact, from 2014 to 2017 alone, the country’s Christian population had been reduced from 1.4 million to a mere 400,000. (Read: 4 Modern-Day Martyrs Whose Deaths Changed the World)
The drastic decline in Iraq’s Christian population is one of the reasons why Cardinal Sako has been calling for Pope Francis to visit the country. “His words touch everyone’s hearts because they are those of a shepherd. He is a man who brings peace,” the cardinal said.
In this spirit, Cardinal Sako gathered his people to explain that the Pope is not coming on a “tourist” or “luxury” trip. Rather, he will be on a pilgrimage— bearing a message of comfort “for all at a time of uncertainty”. (Read: Pope Cheers for Teenage PWD on Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage)
“We must make it an opportunity for a great change so that faith and hope in us become a commitment,” the cardinal wrote.
Prayers for Pope Francis
In light of the Pope’s upcoming visit to Iraq in March, Cardinal Sako composed a prayer that they will be reciting at every Sunday Mass. (Read: The Pope’s Prayer Intention for January 2021) He says he and his people will recite it from January 17 until the Pope’s date of arrival. Read it below:
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.