In Mosul, the rubble of so-called IS destruction is frequently indistinguishable from the rubble of incipient rebuilding, where efforts to repair the wreckage and make a fresh start at life are literally struggling to get off the ground.
There, in the midst of it all on Sunday morning, was Peter.
The gathering took place in Hosh al-Bieaa – Church Square – in Mosul, where four churches sit: Syriac Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Syro-Orthodox, and Chaldean.
Gutayba Aagha, a Sunni Muslim and the head of the Independent Social and Cultural Council for the Families of Mosul, gave his witness: “ Mosul, city of culture and history, the city of the prophets that has suffered so much of late, today rises from the ashes like a phoenix, and – thank God – has begun to enjoy safety and protection; and yes, gradually recovers from its injuries.”
A great cheer went up, when Gutayba Aagha said: “In the name of the Council, I invite our Christian brethren to this, their city, to their properties, and to take up their affairs once again.”
Fr. Raid Emmanuel Adel Kallo, pastor of the parish church of the Annunciation in Mosul, is one who returned.
“I came back to Mosul three years ago, after the liberation of the city,” he told Pope Francis on Sunday. “My Muslim brothers welcomed me with great respect and love,” he went on to recount, telling of the visits he had “from the Imams of Mosul’s mosques to bring their best wishes to the Church.”
Those visits and the sentiments the Imams conveyed “have left a deep mark” on Fr. Raid’s heart, he said. “Muslims of the city visited me as well,” he said, “writers, tribal leaders, people educated as simple workers, to offer their best wishes on the occasion of the restoration of the Church of the Annunciation that ISIS had destroyed.”
Neither man stood off to preach facile reconciliation. Each stood in the square surrounded by rubble and blown out walls half-standing, and offered testimony of small steps taken in the face of crushing adversity, to salvage a present and build a future of amity.
Then, it was Pope Francis’s turn.
“Today we raise our voices in prayer to Almighty God for all the victims of war and armed conflict,” Pope Francis said:
Here in Mosul, the tragic consequences of war and hostility are all too evident. How cruel it is that this country, the cradle of civilization, should have been afflicted by so barbarous a blow, with ancient places of worship destroyed and many thousands of people – Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and others – forcibly displaced or killed!
Pope Francis said the tragic diminution of Jesus’ disciples – in Mosul, throughout Iraq, and across the Middle East – “does incalculable harm not just to the individuals and communities concerned but also to the society they leave behind.”
“Indeed,” Pope Francis continued, “such a richly diverse cultural and religious fabric as this is weakened by the loss of any of its members, however small.”
“Today, however,” Pope Francis went on to say, “we reaffirm our conviction that fraternity is more durable than fratricide, that hope is more powerful than hatred, that peace more powerful than war.”
“This conviction,” Pope Francis said, “speaks with greater eloquence than the passing voices of hatred and violence, and it can never be silenced by the blood spilled by those who pervert the name of God to pursue paths of destruction.”
Then, he led a prayer for all victims of war, in Iraq and in the entire Middle East.
“If God is the God of life,” Pope Francis said, introducing the prayer, “for so he is – then it is wrong for us to kill our brothers and sisters in his Name. If God is the God of peace – for so he is – then it is wrong for us to wage war in his Name. If God is the God of love – for so he is – then it is wrong for us to hate our brothers and sisters.”
Pope Francis invited all those present – really or virtually – to join in praying for all the victims of war.
“May Almighty God grant them eternal life and unending peace, and welcome them into his fatherly embrace. Let us pray too for ourselves. May all of us – whatever our religious tradition – live in harmony and peace, conscious that in the eyes of God, we are all brothers and sisters.”
Most High God, Lord of all ages, you created the world in love and never cease to shower your blessings upon your creatures. From beyond the sea of suffering and death, from beyond all temptations to violence, injustice and unjust gain, you accompany your sons and daughters with a Father’s tender love.
Yet we men and women, spurning your gifts and absorbed by all-too-worldly concerns have often forgotten your counsels of peace and harmony. We were concerned only with ourselves and our narrow interests. Indifferent to you and to others, we barred the door to peace. What the prophet Jonah heard said of Nineveh was repeated: the wickedness of men rose up to heaven (cf. Jonah 1:2).
We did not lift pure hands to heaven (cf. 1 Tim 2:8), but from the earth there arose once more the cry of innocent blood (cf. Gen 4:10). In the Book of Jonah, the inhabitants of Nineveh heeded the words of your prophet and found salvation in repentance. Lord, we now entrust to you the many victims of man’s hatred for man. We too implore your forgiveness and beg the grace of repentance:
Kyrie eleison! Kyrie eleison! Kyrie eleison!
Lord our God, in this city, we see two signs of the perennial human desire for closeness to you: the Al-Nouri Mosque, with its Al-Hadba minaret, and the Church of Our Lady of the Hour, whose clock for more than a century has reminded passersby that life is short and that time is precious.
Teach us to realize that you have entrusted to us your plan of love, peace and reconciliation, and charged us to carry it out in our time, in the brief span of our earthly lives. Make us recognize that only in this way, by putting it into practice immediately, can this city and this country be rebuilt, and hearts torn by grief be healed. Help us not to pass our time in promoting our selfish concerns, whether as individuals or as groups, but in serving your loving plan. And whenever we go astray, grant that we may heed the voice of true men and women of God and repent in due time, lest we be once more overwhelmed by destruction and death.
To you we entrust all those whose span of earthly life was cut short by the violent hand of their brothers and sisters; we also pray to you for those who caused such harm to their brothers and sisters. May they repent, touched by the power of your mercy.
Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine; et lux perpetua luceat eis. Requiescant in pace. Amen.