By Linda Bordoni
Since 2014, Catholic Relief Services has helped more than 350,000 Iraqis affected by war and violence. Work has included education, livelihoods, and shelter. The organization also supports religious leaders, communities and youth groups to work together to rebuild the trust damaged by years of violence.
Speaking to Vatican News’ Massimiliano Menichetti in Baghdad, CRS country representative Davide Bernocchi said Pope Francis’s message is being received by the people with much joy. It is also, he added, a precious opportunity to draw international attention to a country that has suffered much and needs support.
The Pope’s visit “is the perfect occasion to show the world that Iraq still has needs, that the world must not forget it during this difficult time, ” said Bernocchi, expressing relief the ISIS experience is over in the country.
Displaced persons and economic crisis
However, he said Iraq still has major issues: “1.2 million people are still displaced, almost 5 million people have just got back to areas that are not yet adapted to welcome back such a huge population.”
Bernocchi explained that a worsening economic crisis due to the fluctuation of the oil price is also pushing many into poverty and depriving the government of the means to help its people.
Regarding the theme of the Pope’s visit, “You are all brothers” and his powerful message of Human Fraternity, Bernocchi said it is “an extremely important message for this country at this time.”
He noted that Iraq in the past decades has suffered ethnic, sectarian and political divides that have put the social fabric under a lot of stress. “At this point it is essential, to find again the dimension of a common, or shared identity,” that all Iraqis belong to the same national community. This message, he said, shows us the way forward.
It is also an occasion for the Pope, he continued, “to gently push the people and the local Churches out of their comfort zones in the sense that in the last decades each community has probably felt the need to protect themselves from others, and so they have built walls.”
Pope Francis’ message, Bernocchi concluded, is an invitation to replace “those walls with bridges in order to rebuild the country together.”