Pope Francis celebrates mass in Baghdad; holds interfaith meet in Ur

March 06, 2021
Pope Francis urges Abrahamic religions to pursue path of peace in Iraq during an interfaith meet in Ur, Iraq. — courtesy Vatican
Pope Francis urges Abrahamic religions to pursue path of peace in Iraq during an interfaith meet in Ur, Iraq. — courtesy Vatican

BAGHDAD — Pope Francis led a mass in Iraq on Saturday as part of his historic visit to the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pope reminded Iraq’s Chaldean Catholics of one of the core tenets of their faith: Those who are persecuted, poor and mourn are blessed.

The Pope held a Mass for Iraq’s Christians at the Chaldean Catholic Cathedral of St Joseph here — becoming the first time a Pope has celebrated a Mass using the Chaldean rite that is known to most Iraqi Catholics.

He gave a homily focused on the messages of love, patience, and bearing witness. He said: “Love is our strength, the source of strength for those of our brothers and sisters who here too have suffered prejudice, indignities, mistreatment and persecutions for the name of Jesus.”

He told those in the congregation to follow the teachings of Jesus and the beatitudes taken from Jesus’ sermon. In his sermon, he called on Iraqis to hold steady in the face of adversity, to stay patient, and to continue the heroism of bearing witness to the world around them.

Other speakers during the Mass, conducted largely in Arabic, also continued with the theme of love and patience including a reading from Paul's Letter to the Corinthians.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi declared March 6 a National Day of Tolerance and Coexistence in Iraq after Francis met with a top Shia cleric in Iraq and held a landmark inter-religious gathering.

Pope Francis arrived in the ancient city of Ur for an interfaith meeting aimed at urging Iraq’s Muslims, Christians and other believers to put aside historic animosities and work together for peace and unity. The gathering in the Plains of Ur was symbolic as it is the traditional birthplace of Abraham, the patriarch revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Pope Francis is urging Iraq’s Muslim and Christian religious leaders to put aside animosities and work together for peace and unity during an interfaith meeting in the traditional birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, father of their faiths.

He told the gathering: “This is true religiosity: to worship God and to love our neighbor.”

Francis traveled to the ruins of Ur in southern Iraq on Saturday to reinforce his message of interreligious tolerance and fraternity during the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, a country riven by religious and ethnic divisions.

With a magnificent ziggurat nearby, Francis told the faith leaders that it was fitting that they come together in Ur, “back to our origins, to the sources of God’s work, to the birth of our religions” to pray together for peace as children of Abraham, the prophet common to Muslims, Christians and Jews.

He said: “From this place, where faith was born, from the land of our father Abraham, let us affirm that God is merciful and that the greatest blasphemy is to profane his name by hating our brothers and sisters. Hostility, extremism and violence are not born of a religious heart: they are betrayals of religion.”

He said there could never be peace as long as Iraqis viewed people of different faiths as the “other.”

He said: “Peace does not demand winners or losers, but rather brothers and sisters who, for all the misunderstandings and hurts of the past, are journeying from conflict to unity.”

The pontiff's earlier meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, one of the most influential clerics in Shia Islam, took place in the holy city of Najaf and was meant to deliver a message of cooperation and friendship between religious communities.

Al-Sistani affirmed that Iraq's Christians should live in peace and enjoy the same rights as other Iraqis. Pope Francis said the ayatollah's message of peace affirmed "the sacredness of human life and the importance of the unity of the Iraqi people."

The 84-year-old pontiff's convoy was led by a bulletproof vehicle and when he arrived at the home on Saturday, a few doves were released in a sign of peace.

The visit was being carried live on Iraqi television, and residents cheered the meeting of two respected faith leaders.

Pope Francis arrived in Iraq on Friday for his first-ever papal visit to the country. It also marked his first international trip since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. His meeting on Saturday was the first-ever between a pope and a grand ayatollah.

Iraqis have welcomed the visit as the country struggles to recover from decades of war and unrest. Iraq declared victory over the Daesh (so-called IS) group in 2017 but still sees sporadic attacks including recent rocket attacks by Iran-backed militias against US military and diplomatic facilities. — Agencies

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