After a meeting with the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani who is the highest leader of Shiite Muslims in Iraq, Pope Francis participated in an interreligious gathering in the Plain of Ur where he addressed those gathered. The chosen location for the gathering cannot be underestimated since it is the ancient homeland of our common Father in Faith, Abraham.
After the beautiful chanting of the accounts of Abraham from both the Bible and the Koran, various speakers addressed the Pope, including two young men, one Christian and one Muslim, who are friends and own a clothing store together in Basra.
Pope Francis noted that, “it was here that Abraham heard God’s call; it was from here that he set out on a journey that would change history. We are the fruits of that call and that journey.” Abraham is our common Father in Faith with Jews and Muslims.
Pope Francis’ brief address was significant, it reminded me of Pope Benedict’s 2006 Regensburg Address where the Pope spoke of the incompatibility of religion and violence. Pope Francis emphasized that hostility, extremism and violence have no place in religion, clearly condemning those religious groups that have brought havoc and suffering to the Iraqi people of all faiths.
“From this place, where faith was born, from the land of our father Abraham, let us affirm that God is merciful and that the greatest blasphemy is to profane his name by hating our brothers and sisters. Hostility, extremism and violence are not born of a religious heart: they are betrayals of religion. We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion; indeed, we are called unambiguously to dispel all misunderstandings. Let us not allow the light of heaven to be overshadowed by the clouds of hatred! Dark clouds of terrorism, war and violence have gathered over this country. All its ethnic and religious communities have suffered.”
The Pope closed the day in Baghdad celebrating Mass at the Chaldean Catholic Cathedral of Saint Joseph, built in the 1950s and restored in 2018. Francis presided over the Eastern Rite Liturgy in a socially distant Church brining much hope to the Iraqi Christian community. Estimates indicate that close to two million Christians lived in Iraq before 2003, and currently only about 400,000 remain.
Pope Francis will travel to northern Iraq tomorrow to visit Mosul and other areas that were ransacked by ISIS.