Pope Francis is in Iraq on an historic journey these days seeking peace for that part of the world. He addressed Iraq’s government leaders and the diplomatic corp on March 5th, then visited Christians, closing with a mass in the Chaldean cathedral in Baghdad. Ten years ago 58 people were killed there by ISIS gunmen.
March 6th, he journeyed around 5:30 AM to Najaf, where he met privately with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, one of the leading figures in Shia Islam.Then he went to Ur, the home of the Abraham, for a meeting with religious leaders. Later, he celebrated the liturgy at the cathedral in Baghdad.
On March 7th, the pope went to Mosul, a former ISIS stronghold where at 10 AM he will have a prayer service for the victims of war. At 11:30 AM he rededicates the Church of the Immaculate Conception which ISIS occupied and left in ruins. Finally at 4 PM he will celebrate the Eucharist at Erbil, before returning to Rome.
The pope obviously wants to bring peace to one of the most troubled places in our world. His journey reminds us that Lent is more than a personal journey to God, a time to stay home and pray. He wants a world turned to God, where people live in harmony with one another.
I was moved especially by his trip to Ur, Abraham’s birthplace, where he pleaded with religious leaders, Christian, Moslem and others, to remember our common “father in faith.”
“Father Abraham, who was able to hope against all hope (cf. Rom 4:18), encourages us. Throughout history, we have frequently pursued goals that are overly worldly and journeyed on our own, but with the help of God, we can change for the better. It is up to us, today’s humanity, especially those of us, believers of all religions, to turn instruments of hatred into instruments of peace.
It is up to us to appeal firmly to the leaders of nations to make the increasing proliferation of arms give way to the distribution of food for all. It is up to us to silence mutual accusations in order to make heard the cry of the oppressed and discarded in our world: all too many people lack food, medicine, education, rights and dignity! It is up to us to shed light on the shady maneuvers that revolve around money and to demand that money not end up always and only reinforcing the unbridled luxury of a few. It is up to us preserve our common home from our predatory aims. It is up to us to remind the world that human life has value for what it is and not for what it has. That the lives of the unborn, the elderly, migrants and men and women, whatever the colour of their skin or their nationality, are always sacred and count as much as the lives of everyone else! It is up to us to have the courage to lift up our eyes and look at the stars, the stars that our father Abraham saw, the stars of the promise.”
Is it possible? Obviously an old man in his late 80s, hobbled by sciatica, believes it is. Blessed are the peacemakers.