Pope Francis said his forthcoming trip to Iraq would be an important sign of his concern for the region’s Christians, as well as an important opportunity to build fraternity through interreligious dialogue.
“In our time, interreligious dialogue is an important component of the encounter between peoples and cultures. When it is viewed not in terms of compromising our own identity but as an occasion of mutual understanding and enrichment, dialogue can become an opportunity for religious leaders and the followers of different confessions, and can support the responsible efforts of political leaders to promote the common good,” the pope told ambassadors to the Holy See on 8th February.
A few hours later, the Vatican released the initial schedule for the pope’s trip to Iraq, planned between 5th and 8thMarch. The schedule listed planned events and cities but did not provide specific times for any of the events.
As Cardinal Louis Sako, the Baghdad-based patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, told reporters on 28th January, Pope Francis plans to meet on 6th March with Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, leader of the country’s Shi’ite Muslim majority and then to hold an interreligious meeting with Christians, Muslims and Yazidis on the plain of Ur, widely recognised as the homeland of the patriarch Abraham.
Throughout the trip the pope will pay homage to the victims of war and persecution in the country. He will meet on 5thMarch with clergy and religious at the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Deliverance in Baghdad, which was the site of a massacre in 2010 by members of the Islamic State; two priests and close to 60 other worshippers were killed.
The pope will also travel to the autonomous region of Kurdistan and to Qaraqosh, which, before it was invaded by Islamic State fighters in 2014, was home to Iraq’s largest Christian community.
Picture: Pope Francis greets Cardinal Louis Sako, the Baghdad-based patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, during a consistory at the Vatican in this file photo, dated 28th June 2018. Pope Francis plans to visit Iraq from 5th to 8thMarch 2021. (CNS photo/Paul Haring).