By Andrea Tornielli
At the end of the Pope’s first day in Iraq, it is easier to understand the reasons that impelled Francis to keep this trip on the calendar, in spite of everything.
“It is a duty towards a land that has been tormented for so many years,” he told journalists after take-off.
The rampant pandemic, the attacks that have followed one after another in recent weeks... None of this has changed the Pope’s mind, who has decided to prove in his own person his closeness and support for Christians and for all Iraqis who have suffered, and unfortunately still suffer, from violence, terrorism and fanaticism in a country that has unfortunately counted some 1,400 attacks in 2020.
The words of the President of the Republic of Iraq, Barham Salih Qassim, made it clear how much Francis’ presence was anticipated, and how much resolve in standing by his decision to visit the land from which Abraham departed was appreciated: “The Iraqis express their pride in your presence, Your Holiness, as their great and dear guest, despite the recommendations to postpone the visit because of the exceptional circumstances the world is going through because of the epidemic, and despite the difficult conditions our wounded country is going through. Overcoming all these circumstances actually redoubles the value of the visit in the estimation of Iraqis.”
A feeling of profound gratitude could be seen on the faces of the members of the Syrian Catholic community who welcomed the Successor of Peter to Baghdad Cathedral on Friday afternoon — a church bathed in the blood of 48 martyrs, killed while attending Sunday Mass just over ten years ago.
The deeply affected community gathered around the Pope who had come from Rome to be close to them.
A stele at the side of the cathedral commemorates the victims of the attack, whose beatification process is underway. A thick boundary wall protected by barbed wire around the sacred building documents how high the risk still is in a country torn apart by terrorism, militias, factions; and where the interests of regional and international powers are intertwined.
But in the faces of the Christians who have remained, who still live here, and who welcomed Pope Francis with their songs in the evening caressed by the Baghdad breeze, one could not read fear, but only joy.