A few weeks ago, Pope Francis made a historical pilgrimage to war-torn Iraq as the first pope to visit the country, despite threats of violence, rising coronavirus cases and foreign concerns. On the last day of his pilgrimage, he visited Mosul where he condemned the terroristic acts of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS/ISIL for short. He also called for forgiveness. The Pope’s visit to Iraq was extremely risky as Iraq had mostly been torn apart thanks to war. During his visit to the now-liberated Mosul, he explained that “hope is more powerful than hatred” during a special church service. He then visited the nearby Christian town Qaraqosh that was also humiliated by ISIL. One church in particular was desecrated and vandalized by the terror group was the ancient Church of the Immaculate Conception where the Pope held a Mass.The Pope also celebrated Mass at a stadium in Irbil, where he said Iraq would remain in his heart. Thousands of people attended the service despite COVID-19 concerns. Many who attended had escaped from ISIL, and Pope Francis is hoping to improve Christian-Muslim relations in the region and around the world.
The Pope visited an Ayatollah during the second day of his pilgrimage, saying that religious authorities have a role in protecting Christians and violence is a betrayal of religion. Such betrayals have extended beyond the Middle East to the rest of the world. He also traveled to the ancient city of Ur, which is revered as the birthplace of Abraham, and also held Mass at a church that had also been taken over by jihadists. According to an Islamic cleric, the Pope’s visit raised a signal that the extremists who rampaged Iraq had lost, and that his presence would help bring Christians back to Iraq.Believe it or not, Pope John Paul II was originally planned to visit Iraq in 1999, but the trip never materialized. For Pope Francis, visiting Iraq was one of those things he wanted to do, even before the coronavirus pandemic struck the globe. As mentioned in the Bible, Iraq takes the place of ancient Mesopotamia and many see it as the birthplace of Christianity.
Reconciliation was one of those things Iraqi citizens wanted to hear from Pope Francis, even though many were against it. Many also did not recommend he hold Mass as they would become superspreader events. Iraq has over 750,000 cases as of this writing and is currently experiencing a second wave of infections, compared to the United States’ three waves.When the Pope departed Iraq, many thanked him for the time and brave trip, although many had called for him to cancel or postpone. It was mostly Iraq’s Christian minority that were touched and were very glad that he resisted his urge to cancel.
The Pope has visited a total of seven Middle Eastern countries and 11 Muslim majority countries, including a past visit to Egypt in the spring of 2017, where he condemned two ISIS suicide bombings on Coptic churches celebrating Palm Sunday three weeks prior. He has also visited countries where Buddhism is one of the dominant religions, such as Thailand and Japan. His visit in Japan in 2019 was the first in almost four decades.Pope Francis has worked to show brothers and sisters of all faiths the power of coming together with this historic trip.