This morning, after leaving the Apostolic Nunciature, the Holy Father Francis was transferred by car to Baghdad International Airport, from where he departed, aboard an Iraqi Airways plane bound for Erbil, a city that became a refuge for many people fleeing from others such as Mosul or Qaraqosh, during the rise of the Islamic State.
In the city-refuge, Erbil
Upon his arrival, the Pope was received by the Archbishop of Erbil of the Chaldeans, His Excellency Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda, the Archbishop of Hadiab-Erbil of the Syrians, His Excellency Archbishop Nizar Semaan, the President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Autonomous Region Nechirvan Barzani, Prime Minister Masrour Barzani and several civil and religious authorities. The President accompanied him to a VIP lounge at the airport where they were to meet.
The enthusiasm of the people was palpable: the songs that could be heard expressed great affection and joy. Some of them were sung in a particular Italian with an Arabian accent, in which the refrain "siamo contenti, siamo goiosi. Thank you with all my heart"(We are happy, we are joyful. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts).
Then, after a brief meeting, in the airport's presidential VIP lounge, with the archbishops of Erbil of the Chaldeans and of Hadiab-Erbil of the Syrians and with the president and prime minister of the autonomous region, Pope Francis took his leave and transferred by helicopter from Erbil to Mosul, the city that ISIS occupied and destroyed for three years.
In devastated Mosul
In Mosul, upon his arrival, the Pope was received by the Archbishop of Mosul and Aqra of the Chaldeans, H.E. Msgr. Najeeb Michaeel, O.P., by the Governor of Mosul and by two children who offered him a floral tribute. He then proceeded to Hosh-al-Bieaa for the prayer of suffrage for the victims of the war.
"A cultural and religious fabric so rich in diversity is weakened by the loss of any one of its members, however small."
It was 10:00 local time (8:00 Rome time), when the Holy Father Francis arrived at Hosh-al-Bieaa, the square of the four churches (Syrian-Catholic, Armenian-Orthodox, Syrian-Orthodox and Chaldean) destroyed between 2014 and 2017 by terrorist attacks, to pray the prayer of suffrage for the victims of the war.
Upon his arrival, the Pope was received by the Archbishop of Mosul and Aqra of the Chaldeans, H.E. Msgr. Najeeb Michaeel, O.P., who accompanied him to the Hosh-al-Bieaa center.
"Dear brothers and sisters, dear friends," Pope Francis began, "I thank Archbishop Najeeb Michaeel for his words of welcome and I thank especially Father Raid Kallo and Mr. Gutayba Aagha for their moving testimonies."
A small thread
He continued with greetings and thanks: "Thank you very much, Father Raid. You have told us about the forced displacement of many Christian families who had to leave their homes. The tragic decline of Christ's disciples, here and throughout the Middle East, is an incalculable damage not only to the individuals and communities affected, but to the very society they leave behind. Indeed, a cultural and religious fabric so rich in diversity is weakened by the loss of even a small number of its members. As in one of your artistic carpets, a small thread can spoil everything. You, Father, also spoke of your fraternal experience with the Muslims after your return to Mosul. You found welcome, respect and collaboration. Thank you, Father, for having shared these signs that the Spirit makes bloom in the desert and for having shown us that it is possible to hope in reconciliation and in a new life.
Mr. Aagha, you reminded us that the true identity of this city is the harmonious coexistence of people of diverse origins and cultures. I therefore welcome your invitation to the Christian community to return to Mosul and assume its vital role in the process of healing and renewal.
"Today we reaffirm our conviction that fraternity is stronger than fratricide, hope is stronger than death, peace is stronger than war."
Today we 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. It is cruel that this country, the cradle of civilization, has been hit by such a dehumanizing storm, with ancient places of worship destroyed and thousands upon thousands of people - Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and others - forcibly evicted or killed.
Today, in spite of everything, we reaffirm our conviction that fraternity is stronger than fratricide, hope is stronger than death, peace is stronger than war. This conviction speaks with a more eloquent voice than the voice of hatred and violence; and it can never be silenced in the blood shed by those who profane the name of God by walking paths of destruction".
From the deepest
Then, before beginning the prayer of suffrage, the Pope expressed some profound words in which one could perceive the Holy Father's feelings of closeness: "Before praying for all the victims of the war in this city of Mosul, in Iraq and throughout the Middle East, I would like to share with you these thoughts: If God is the God of life - and he is - it is not lawful for us to kill our brothers and sisters in his name. If God is the God of peace - and he is - it is not lawful for us to wage war in his name. If God is the God of love - and he is - it is not lawful for us to hate our brothers and sisters.
The prayer of suffrage
After these introductory words, he moved on to the suffragan prayer:
"Now let us pray together for all the victims of war, that God almighty may grant them eternal life and endless peace, and welcome them with his loving embrace. And let us also pray for all of us, so that, beyond religious beliefs, we may live in harmony and peace, aware that in the eyes of God we are all brothers and sisters."
And so began the prayer, which we transcribe in its entirety: "Most high God, Lord of time and history, you created the world out of love and never cease to shower your blessings on your creatures. You, beyond the ocean of suffering and death, beyond the temptations of violence, injustice and unjust gain, accompany your sons and daughters with the tender love of a Father.
But we men, ungrateful of your gifts and absorbed in our concerns and ambitions too earthly, have often forgotten your designs of peace and harmony. We have closed ourselves in ourselves and in our particular interests, and indifferent to You and to others, we have barred the doors to peace. Thus was repeated what the prophet Jonah heard from Nineveh: the wickedness of men went up to heaven (cf. Jon 1,2). We do not raise clean hands to heaven (cf. 1 Tm 2:8), but from the earth rose once again the cry of innocent blood (cf. Gn 4,10). The inhabitants of Nineveh, in the story of Jonah, listened to the voice of your prophet and found salvation in conversion. We too, Lord, as we entrust to you the many victims of man's hatred against man, invoke your forgiveness and beg for the grace of conversion:
Kyrie eleison. Kyrie eleison. Kyrie eleison".
And after a brief silence, he continued:
"Lord our God, in this city two symbols bear witness to the constant desire of humanity to draw closer to You: the Al Nuri Mosque with its minaret Al Hadba and the Church of Our Lady of the Hour, with a clock that for over a hundred years has been reminding passers-by that life is brief and time is precious. Teach us to understand that you have entrusted to us your plan of love, peace and reconciliation to be carried out in time, in the brief course of our earthly life. Make us understand that only by putting it into practice without delay can this city and this country be rebuilt, and hearts torn apart by pain be healed. Help us not to spend our time in the service of our selfish, personal or group interests, but in the service of your loving plan. And when we stray from the path, grant that we may listen to the voices of the true men of God, and come to our senses for a time, so that destruction and death may not ruin us again.
We entrust to you those whose earthly life has been shortened by the violent hand of their brothers, and we beseech you also for those who have harmed their brothers and sisters; may they repent, reached by the power of your mercy.
Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Requiescant in pace. Amen."
At the end of the moment of prayer, after the unveiling of the plaque commemorating the visit, followed by the release of a white dove and after the final blessing, the Holy Father, before leaving the square, greeted some religious and civil personalities. Then, he moved by car to the take-off area and, after taking leave of the Archbishop of Mosul and Aqra of the Chaldeans and the governor of Mosul, he took a helicopter to go to Qaraqosh.
There, he visited the Catholic community in the Church of the Immaculate Conception, which had been destroyed. He was able to pray the Angelus with the gathered faithful and signed the book of honor asking the Lord for peace: "From this destroyed and rebuilt church, symbol of the hope of Qaraqosh and of all Iraq, I ask God, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, for the gift of peace".
It is evident that this is a trip with a marked significance, both for the pontificate of Francis and for interreligious dialogue, peace in the Middle East and for the universal Church.