So, Pope Francis is going to Iraq. That’s awesome, really. Our Christian brethren who call that land of culture and impossibly ancient descent their home have an especial claim on the Pope’s solicitude – of which Pope Francis is quite sensible – and the great strength of Francis’s pontificate is his ability to create and offer timely signs of the true hope, which does not disappoint in eternity.
The Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, Louis Raphael Cardinal Sako, called it “an Apostolic Visit under the banner of human fraternity and reconciliation.”
“It is a great gift to Iraq, to its people and to all the Middle East,” Cardinal Sako toldAgenSIR. “The Pope’s visit to Iraq will be a message of brotherhood, a call for harmony, solidarity and peace.”
SIR’s report also mentioned the joy that news of the scheduled visit has already brought to the many and sizeable Chaldean communities of the diaspora:
Contacted by SIR in Germany, where he serves as parish priest, Father Rebwar Basa, former Chaldean Procurator to the Holy See, described the “overwhelming joy of the faithful. The Pope, like a good Shepherd, comes to reunite the small Iraqi flock. The Pope’s visit is for us a special grace, especially at this time of political, economic, social and health challenges. His presence will help us get back on our two feet and resume our journey.” The joy of the Chaldean diaspora communities is such that “many are already considering returning to Iraq in March to take part in this historic event,” the priest said. “We shall see if the pandemic enables us to do so.”
Health and security are both real and significant concerns, to be perfectly frank, but the fact is there’s never going to be a perfect time to visit a war-ravaged, weary nation in need of a morale boost. Arguably, this perfect storm of a crisis is the best time for just such a visit.
The statement announcing the visit on Monday was short on specifics, but that is to be expected at this stage. It was clear, however, that the visit will be brief, and take Pope Francis through much of the country – much of which is a living record of civilization and salvation history – including some of the worst trouble spots in recent years: Baghdad, Ur – the ancient seat of Abraham, our father in faith; Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan; l and Qaraqosh on the Nineveh Plain.
The statement from the Press Office was otherwise short on details. “The programme of the Journey will be made known in due course, and will take into consideration the evolution of the worldwide health emergency,”
I’ve said before that Pope Francis often tries to govern by means of the grand gesture, and when that’s the only tool in the governance box it’s a problem, but that doesn’t mean it’s never the needful thing – and you will not find a living leader on the world stage with greater mastery of the business and the craft.