Pope Francis on Friday delivered the first of several major addresses scheduled during his historic visit to Iraq, under the banner: You are all brothers.
Describing himself as a “penitent” come to ask forgiveness of heaven and his brothers and sisters for the terrible destruction and cruelty visited on Iraq in recent times.
“I come as a pilgrim of peace,” Pope Francis said, “in the name of Christ, the Prince of Peace.”
“Fraternal coexistence,” said Pope Francis, “calls for patient and honest dialogue, protected by justice and by respect for law.”
“This task is not easy,” Pope Francis went on to say, “it demands hard work and a commitment on the part of all to set aside rivalries and contrapositions and instead to speak with one another from our deepest identity as fellow children of the one God and Creator.”
Noting the enormous efforts and great strides Iraq has made in recent years to lay the foundations for a democratic society, Pope Francis said ensuring the participation of all political, social and religious groups, and guarantee respect for fundamental rights to all citizens.
“May no one be considered a second-class citizen,” Pope Francis said.
“The age-old presence of Christians in this land, and their contributions to the life of the nation, constitute a rich heritage that they wish to continue to place at the service of all,” Pope Francis said. “Their participation in public life, as citizens with full rights, freedoms and responsibilities, will testify that a healthy pluralism of religious beliefs, ethnicities and cultures can contribute to the nation’s prosperity and harmony.”
“As governmental leaders and diplomats, you are called to foster this spirit of fraternal solidarity,” Pope Francis said. “It is necessary, but not sufficient, to combat the scourge of corruption, misuse of power and disregard for law,” he said. “Also necessary is the promotion of justice and the fostering of honesty, transparency and the strengthening of the institutions responsible in this regard.”
“In this way,” Pope Francis went on to say, “stability within society grows and a healthy politics arises, able to offer to all, especially the young of whom there are so many in this country, sure hope for a better future.”
Speaking of the suffering Iraq has experienced over the past several decades — disastrous wars, terrorism and sectarian conflict — Pope Francis said the mindset that produces such poisonous fruit is “often grounded in a fundamentalism incapable of accepting the peaceful coexistence of different ethnic and religious groups, different ideas and cultures.”
“All this has brought in its wake death, destruction and ruin,” said Pope Francis, “not only materially: the damage is so much deeper if we think of the heartbreak endured by so many individuals and communities, and wounds that will take years to heal.”
Pope Francis mentioned particularly the Yazidis — an ancient people with a peculiar monotheistic creed, who live mostly in northern Iraq and suffered gruesome persecution along with Christians and others under the so-called Islamic State — describing them as “innocent victims of senseless and brutal atrocities, persecuted and killed for their religion, and whose very identity and survival was put at risk.”
Despite the recent violence and instability, Pope Francis noted that religious, cultural and ethnic diversity has been a hallmark of Iraqi society for millennia and a resource on which the whole Iraqi people may draw in the present. “Iraq today is called to show everyone, especially in the Middle East, that diversity, instead of giving rise to conflict, should lead to harmonious cooperation in the life of society,” Pope Francis said.
“Only if we learn to look beyond our differences and see each other as members of the same human family,” Pope Francis went on to say, “will we be able to begin an effective process of rebuilding and leave to future generations a better, more just and more humane world.”
The Holy Father’s visit to Iraq is one he has long desired to make — and a visit for 2020 was in the works before the Covid-19 pandemic struck. He noted that the visit is now taking place at a time when the whole world is struggling to emerge from the crisis precipitated by the health emergency.
“This crisis calls for concerted efforts by all to take necessary steps, including an equitable distribution of vaccines for everyone,” Pope Francis said. “But this is not enough,” Pope Francis continued. “This crisis is above all a summons to ‘rethink our styles of life… and the meaning of our existence’.”
“It has to do with coming out of this time of trial better than we were before,” Pope Francis said, “and with shaping a future based more on what unites us than on what divides us.”