Iraq: the political brotherhood of Pope Francis
The Pope's visit to Iraq contains a political message not only addressed to Christians but to all minorities and has a symbolic importance that the enthusiasm of people has understood
Pope Francis in Erbil (Kurdistan), Franso Hariri stadium, March 7th 2021.The meeting of Pope Francis with the Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani in Najaf- the world’s epicentre for Sciite religious authority is in itself significant. As MENA analyst Dr. Lorenzo Trombetta explains, “Al-Sistani has supported the protests in Iraq since 2017 and particularly in 2019 and his figure should be viewed as pan-Islamic and pan-Shiite whilst he is integrated in the country’s political aspects of the Iraqi society”. The meeting of the two religious figures ended with the declaration on the part of al-Sistani of the responsibility that religious authorities have in the country in protecting Christians and their right to live in peace as the rest of the Iraqi people. This historic interreligious moment is part of a wider discourse that began in February 2019, when Pope Francis met the Sunni Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayeb of al-Azhar mosque in Abu Dhabi. It carries a message of hope for future generations. The impact of this pilgrimage cannot be measured by its immediate impact on the streets. Inflation is high, the pandemic has made numerous victims, the economy is suffering and despite the fact that the country is the world’s forth producer of oil, the population does not have access to reliable electricity and power on a reliable basis. The upcoming Parliamentary elections in October do not bode well for a positive change. Yet, the symbolic weight of the Pope’s visit, his image praying in destroyed Mosul, next to rubble shows that a change albeit slow is present. The Holy Father spoke in the West side of Mosul, where Christians have not lived for many years, even prior IS; it is primarily the home to Sunni Muslims. Speaking to the people there while also reaching out to minorities such as the Yazidis is of extreme importance. In concrete terms, on March 1st, just a few days prior to the Pope’s visit, the Iraqi Parliament approved a law (after a two year stalemate) to grant assistance and compensation to Yazidi, Turkmen, Christians and Shabak who were persecuted under IS. Yesterday, from his window on Saint Peter’s Square, Pope Francis while delivering the Angelus prayer lamented the decade of Syria’s devastating civil war calling on international community to provide decisive and renewed commitment to rebuild the nation. The crises of this region are far from being over but this trip of the ‘penitent pilgrim’ as Pope Francis referred to it, helps to pave the way for a new path and direction.