By Vatican News staff writer
As Pope Francis brings his message of solidarity and fraternity to Iraq, several organizations working in the country have taken up his call, committing themselves to working to promote peace and rebirth in the nation.
One of such groups is the Pope John XXIII Community which, since its presence in Baghdad in 2015, has been working closely with “differently-abled” and physically challenged people to put smiles on their faces and to protect their dignity. Founded in 1968 by Father Oreste Benzi, the Pope John XXIII Community Association embraces a commitment to combatting marginalization and poverty.
Ahead of the Pope’s visit from 5 – 8 March, the Pope John XXIII Community, alongside several other faith -based organizations jointly signed a statement reaffirming their commitment to embracing the Pope’s message of peace, convinced that this is “the necessary way to heal the wounds of the past and build a future for the different communities in the country.”
In this regard, Claudio Didero, a lay missionary of the community in Baghdad, spoke to Massimiliano Menichetti of Vatican News reflecting on the Pope’s visit and its significance to the Middle Eastern country. He also spoke about the work of the Pope John XXIII Community with the physically challenged and their primary aim of bringing the message of peace and fraternity to them.
Close to the physically challenged
Claudio explained that the work of the Pope John XXIII Community includes being close with the physically challenged children, mostly Muslim, who experience marginalization and difficulties every day and who, because of their physical challenges, are not admitted to schools.
He noted that efforts to work with them are currently limited to welcoming them to one house where they can stay during the day. The Community also lends a helping hand to the Sisters of Mother Theresa who also take care of abandoned and handicapped children.
“We share our lives with these children,” Claudio said. “We show them our love, our interest, we eat with them, we play and we do some activities with them in the house and also in the center of the sisters.”
Amid this welcoming environment, Claudio highlights that many of them, feeling the friendliness of others, reciprocate in turn by being kind. He notes that in this manner, Christians and Muslims alike share in the spirit of fraternity that Pope Francis often speaks about because they feel welcomed.
The Pope’s visit to Iraq
Claudio said Iraqis welcome the Pope’s visit to Iraq as a gesture of the Holy Father’s closeness to the country which has a difficult history with wars and violence. He however laments that many who would have loved to come out into the streets, will only be able to participate via television due to the restrictions imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I am very happy that the Pope came here to give us his attention, his love,” Claudio said.
Claudio affirmed that the Pope’s message is very important because “it is fraternity and love for everybody.” It is this fraternity, Claudio hopes, that will stop people from carrying out acts of violence in the name of God because “God is love” and will not do things of that sort.