Pope Francis in Mosul, Iraq, on 7 March 2021 Pope Francis in Mosul, Iraq, on 7 March 2021

From the rubble of Mosul to that in Ukraine, the Pope's voice of peace and hope

As Pope Francis enters the tenth year of his pontificate, we recall the words he uttered one year ago in Iraq which appear dramatically relevant today.

By Andrea Tornielli

Pope Francis is beginning the tenth year of his pontificate. The anniversary is dramatically marked by the horror of war in the heart of Europe.

It is striking to listen back to some of the words spoken by the Pope a year ago, during the most important and courageous apostolic journey of his pontificate: the one to Iraq. This was a visit he forcefully desired, despite the risks and the obstacles deriving from the enormous security concerns such a journey posed, especially for those participating in the celebrations and meetings.

Against all odds, in March 2021, Pope Francis undertook that pilgrimage, one of St. John Paul II’s never realized dreams, to show his closeness to all the victims of fundamentalism, to lend encouragement to the difficult path of reconstruction of the country, to extend a hand to the many peaceful Muslims who want to live in peace with Christians and with members of other religions.

The apex of that journey was the visit, by the Bishop of Rome, to the rubble-strewn city of Mosul. On that occasion, Pope Francis said, "Today all of us raise our voices in prayer to Almighty God for all the victims of war and armed conflict. Here in Mosul, the tragic consequences of war and hostility are all too evident. How cruel it is that this country, the cradle of civilization, should have been afflicted by so barbarous a blow, with ancient places of worship destroyed and many thousands of people – Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, who were cruelly eliminated by terrorism, and others – forcibly displaced or killed!"

One year later, yet again, the tragic consequences of the dirty war in Ukraine, hypocritically defined a "special military operation," are before the eyes of the world, with their load of pain, suffering, the bodies of innocent people torn apart, children killed, families divided, millions of refugees forced to leave everything behind to escape the bombs, cities turned into battlefields, homes gutted and burned. Not to mention the wounded hearts, which will take years to heal. This time the war is close by. It is not far away like the one in Iraq, for which Pope Wojtyla - unheeded - had prophetically implored, in vain, that it not be waged. A war that transformed the land of Abraham into a cesspool of terrorism. War, is an "adventure with no return".

This time, hatred and violence cannot be cloaked in theories about the "clash of civilizations", they have nothing to do with fictitious religious motivations. This time, on the two fronts there are men and women who share the same Christian faith and the same baptism. Faced with the havoc caused by the aggression of the Russian army in Ukraine, and the escalation of a war that risks dragging the world into nuclear conflict, it is not easy to find signs of hope.

Yet, just as a year ago in Mosul Pope Francis reaffirmed his "conviction that fraternity is more durable than fratricide, that hope is more powerful than hatred, that peace more powerful than war," even today, despite all, it is possible to hope. Imploring God for the gift of peace, without ever ceasing to seek it and pursue it, leaving no stone unturned to obtain a ceasefire and the beginning of real negotiations. Because if we want peace, we have to prepare peace, not war. It is necessary to have the courage and the creativity to follow new paths to build a coexistence between nations that is not based on balances of force and on deterrence. Today it is possible to hope by looking to the great wave of solidarity that has gushed forth in a matter of days and to the generosity of countries like Poland, which have opened their doors to millions of refugees.

One year ago, at the interreligious meeting in the Plain of Ur, Pope Francis said: "From where, then, can the journey of peace begin? From the decision not to have enemies. Anyone with the courage to look at the stars, anyone who believes in God, has no enemies to fight. He or she has only one enemy to face, an enemy that stands at the door of the heart and knocks to enter. That enemy is hatred. While some try to have enemies more than to be friends, while many seek their own profit at the expense of others, those who look at the stars of the promise, those who follow the ways of God, cannot be against someone, but for everyone.

They cannot justify any form of imposition, oppression and abuse of power; they cannot adopt an attitude of belligerence." In these nine years of his pontificate, the Pope has taught us that the path to peace begins with the disarmament of hearts. To call oneself a Christian means to belong to a God made Man, who allowed himself to be killed on the cross for love. Choosing to be a helpless victim, for two thousand years he has been asking us to be on the side of the oppressed, of those who are attacked, of the defeated, of the last, of the discarded. He asks us to sow peace, never hatred, war or violence.

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12 March 2022, 15:00