By Vatican News staff writer
The Vatican Press Office announced on Monday that Pope Francis has accepted the invitation of the Iraqi government and the local Catholic Church and will make an Apostolic Journey to the Middle Eastern country from 5 to 8 March 2021.
For the Church in Iraq, for Iraqi Christians and for the whole country, including Muslims, this “represents a source of great and immense joy,” Bishop Yaldo, the local coordinator of the papal visit told AsiaNews. He said the people “have been waiting for many years, since the time of Pope John Paul II, in 2000, with the first reports of a journey that was not possible then.” “Already in 2019, there was talk of this trip but the situation was not stable,” but now the conditions have improved despite the difficulties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic,” noted the bishop.
Bishop Yaldo, who is one of the two Auxiliary Bishops of Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, will oversee the Pope’s 4-day visit that will cover 4 Iraqi provinces. The Vatican said the Pope will visit Baghdad, the plain of Ur, linked to the memory of Abraham, the city of Erbil, as well as Mosul and Qaraqosh in the plain of Nineveh.
“The Pope's visit,” Bishop Yaldo explained, “comes as the confirmation of the country’s greater stability.” This is happening “also thanks to the work of the current Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, and President Barham Salih, the key to overcoming the many difficult situations of the past.” The bishop also pointed to the great regard the president has for the pontiff, whom he has met twice.
Significant for Christians and Muslims
“The Pope's visit is a dream for us,” the bishop said, adding the announcement of the March visit “gives courage to all Iraqi people, not just Christians; it is a show of strong solidarity, peace and fraternity for the whole nation.” Muslims perhaps “are possibly happier than us. The whole nation is happy,” he said.
Even though details of the visit have not been decided, the bishop said that Pope Francis wishes to go “to Mosul, a stronghold of the Islamic State for a long time, where the worst crimes of jihadist madness were committed.” “The Pope wants to go to Mosul and pray for the victims of the Islamic State” and the violence that took place in the city.
Catholics, Bishop Yaldo said, are “a small flock, but of great relevance.” “This Christmas will be special as we wait for the visit.” In the meantime, “we must do our best to ensure that it has the historical, cultural and religious importance it deserves.” “This visit,” he said, “will give an enormous boost to the country’s future and will guarantee great visibility to Christians. The Pope will give great significance and relevance to their presence and their suffering.”
According to the bishop, the stop at Ur of the Chaldeans, regarded as the birthplace of Abraham, will be the high point of the visit because Christians, Muslims and Jews regard him as a prophet. Abraham “represents the sign of unity for all of us who inhabit this land, for us who are in Iraq”. “Seeing Abraham’s house will be a great symbol of unity for all religions that have this element in common,” Bishop Yaldo said. (Source: AsiaNews)