By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
Several faith-based organizations operating in Iraq have issued a joint interreligious statement welcoming Pope Francis’ Apostolic Journey to the country which is scheduled from 5 – 8 March.
The Tuesday joint statement, co-signed by 29 organizations – both Catholic and non-Catholic – expressed collective anticipation of the papal visit, joyful that it will bring with it, a message of fraternity and dialogue to the middle eastern nation.
Recounting the history of Iraq – “the birthplace of Abraham, father of many in faith,” the statement highlights that is a beautiful country of rich cultural and religious diversity within which many ethnic and faith communities have lived side by side for many centuries. However, recent decades have been marked by war, insecurity and the rise of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) which have “deeply strained relations between communities and damaged the country’s social fabric.”
Still yet today, “Iraq still faces daunting challenges,” said the organizations. “Among the 1.2 million Iraqis who continue to be internally displaced and approximately 4.8 million returnees, many are in dire need of help.” All these, coupled with a worsening economic crisis, further exacerbated by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, is “pushing many into poverty and depriving the government of resources need to assist its own people.”
Pope Francis’ message of universal fraternity
The joint statement recalls that in the Holy Father’s latest Encyclical, Fratelli tutti, he writes that religions have a role to play at the service of fraternity in the world. In the same vein, the Abu Dhabi Document on Human Fraternity underscores that “faith leads a believer to see in the other a brother or sister to be supported and loved” and believers are called to express fraternity through safeguarding creation and supporting all people, especially the poorest and those most in need.
Inspired by these, the organizations express their support for the “message of fraternity and dialogue that Pope Francis is bringing to Iraq” adding, that they believe “it represents a necessary way forward to heal past wounds and build a future for the country’s diverse communities” as they continue to collaborate with authorities to help communities “reconcile, rebuild peace, and reclaim their collective rights to safety, services and livelihoods.”
At the same time, the organizations reiterated their commitment to continue to serve and empower people without discrimination on the basis of their needs, and respect others’ cultural values and religious convictions while rejecting all forms of sectarianism and proselytism, strengthen. They also promised to strengthen inclusive initiatives and approaches that foster social cohesion, as well as intensify collaboration between themselves in the service of those in need.
Finally, the faith-based organizations urged the international community to “remain engaged in supporting the Iraqi people to overcome their current challenges, in a true spirit of human fraternity and solidarity.”