By Inés San Martín,
Pope Francis is greeted by an Iraqi woman upon his arrival at Erbil airport during his Apostolic Journey to Iraq. Image: Vatican News Although the impact of papal trips is often hard to assess in the immediate aftermath, such cautions mean little to the leader of Iraq’s local Catholic church, who quickly proclaimed Pope Francis’ March 5-8 visit to his nation a “miracle” on Sunday 7 March.
“The mentality, the culture, has began to change,” Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako told journalists on Sunday, as he was waiting for Pope Francis to arrive in Qaraqosh from Mosul, two cities devastated by the terrorist from Islamic State between 2014 and 2017.
“First, the waiting for the pope, and then his presence, have produced a miracle,” Sako said.
He argued that the situation for Christians in Iraq, where ISIS perpetrated genocide and where those who follow Jesus have long suffered discrimination, often treated as second class citizens, is changing.
“The situation has changed already, everyone is talking about us now, about the history of Christians in Iraq and the Middle East, saying ‘the land was theirs, we arrived later’, [using] a completely different language of respect towards Christians, encouraging Christians to stay, to build trust,” he said.
Archbishop Youhanna Jihad Mtanos Battah, Syriac archbishop of Damascus, agreed: Everyone is very happy to welcome the pope, and “this trip is very important for dialogue. It’s a letter for peace.”