Iraq | 30 March 2021

Iraq: What did the Pope"s visit achieve?

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As reported by BBC News on 8 March 2021, 84-year-old Roman Catholic Pope Francis paid a 4-day visit to Iraq (5-8 March). He is the first Pope ever to visit Iraq and visited Christians and Muslims in the cities of Ur, Baghdad, Najaf, Qaraqosh, Erbil and Mosul. According to the BBC report, the pontiff stated that the "dwindling Christian community should have a more prominent role as citizens with full rights, freedoms and responsibilities". Henriette Kats, World Watch Research (WWR) analyst, comments: "One of the most moving moments of the Pope"s visit was when he spent time in prayer on Sunday among the ruined churches in Mosul which had been an Islamic State Group stronghold not many years ago. His visit was particularly uplifting for Roman Catholics who make up 57.1% of the Christian population, according to World Christian Database estimates (as published in WWR"s Full Country Dossier, revised March 2021, p. 18). A highlight for them was an open-air church service with the Pope in the Erbil football stadium." Henriette Kats continues: "The Pope also spent time in polite dialogue with senior Shia and Sunni clerics and repeated the need for Muslims and Christians to live and work together in peace. Although there was no historical document to sign, as was the case when the Pope met with the Sunni Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and signed a document on human fraternity in Abu Dhabi in February 2019, some commentators see his meeting with Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani as being particularly important as this could also be significant for future contact with the Shia community in Iran (America magazine, 22 March 2021)." Henriette Kats concludes: "The pontiff"s first visit to the land and his conciliatory words have given fresh hope to Iraqi Christians. It has also sent a reconciliatory signal to non-Christian leaders. However, only time will tell whether this visit has succeeded in improving the situation for Iraqi Christians in such a way that it will help them stay in the country."


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