The Vatican recently announced that Pope Francis will be making an Apostolic Journey to Iraq March 5 – 8 this year. This will be Francis’ first Apostolic Journey in 15 months. During the trip, the Pope will be visiting Baghdad, Mosul, the plain of Ur, and Qaraqosh.
- The Vatican announces the Pope will make an Apostolic Journey to Iraq March 5 – 8 this year.
- Following the terror created by ISIS, Christians throughout Iraq feel the majority of Western Christians have deserted them.
- The intention behind the Pope’s visit is to comfort Iraqi Christians in the region.
- The Iraqi government is calling the trip a historical event.
The Pope first made public mention of wanting to visit Iraq during a meeting of Catholic aid agencies back in June of 2019. The trip comes as the realization of Pope St. John Paul II’s dream, who had been planning to visit Iraq in 1999. After months of difficult negotiating, the trip was postponed by Saddam Hussein and never rescheduled.
The Babylon of Chaldeans’ Patriarch, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, believes Iraqis will enthusiastically welcome the Pope. Cardinal Sako says, “Everyone in Iraq, Christians and Muslims, esteem Pope Francis for his simplicity and nearness. His words touch everyone’s hearts because they are those of a shepherd. He is a man who brings peace.”
Are the Pope and Christianity Safe in Iraq?
On January 25, 2020, preparations for the trip appeared to be near completion. Iraq’s president, Barham Salih, met with the Pope in front of an audience in the Vatican. During the visit, the Holy See press office reported they discussed “preserving the historical presence of Christians in the country.” Also, there was talk of “highlighting the need to guarantee their security and a place in the future of Iraq.”
However, the presence of Christians in the country has been drastically diminishing over the previous 20 years. Before Iraq was invaded by a U.S. led coalition back in 2003, Iraq was home to between 1 – 1.4 million Christians. That number has dwindled down to between 300 – 400 thousand following the Plain of Nineveh being occupied by the Islamic State. Christians who have fled Iraq out of fear have been invited to return and play a significant role in rebuilding the country by both the prime minister and president of Iraq.
The vision of Iraq’s Christian recovery has been placed on hold by a combination of corruption and economic crisis. Also, over one and a half million people have been internally displaced. The Pope’s visit could play a role in many Christians, finally returning.
Will a visit by the Pope Generate a Response?
Too many Christians in the West, both Catholics and Protestants, believe the intense persecution of Iraq’s Christians started when ISIS began to emerge in 2014. In reality, this was simply the culmination of kidnappings, murders, and bombings going back to 2003 when Iraq was first invaded.
Iraqi Christians moved from the country’s capital to the villages and towns of the Nineveh Plain in northern Iraq. This is an area that has been populated by Christians since the apostles were living. Before Mosul was captured by ISIS in 2014, most Christians were already fleeing. This was because of the lack of security and safety for them in the area.
Following the terror created by ISIS, Christians throughout Iraq feel the majority of Western Christians have deserted them. The focus isn’t on their Christian brothers and sisters being murdered and tortured throughout Syria and Iraq. Instead, those in the West are more concerned with LGBTQ, and global warming. Discussing which politicians should be allowed to partake in the Eucharist gets the attention. All of this, while an ancient Church is being annihilated.
What’s the Purpose of the Trip?
The Christians in Iraq desperately need this visit from the Pope. Many believe it’s a trip that should’ve been made years ago. This could very well be the moment a decision is made concerning the role of Christianity in rebuilding Iraq. For the trip’s success, a very cautious course will have to be directed by the Pope and other Christian advisors.
According to a senior figure within the Archdiocese of Erbil, if the intention behind the Pope’s visit is comforting Iraqi Christians who’ve been forced to live through torment and suffering, appealing for their right to be viewed as equal citizens under the constitution in Iraq, this visit could be the difference between Christians leaving Iraq permanently or looking forward to a peaceful future in the country.
That being said, if the purpose of Pope Francis visiting Iraq is bringing attention to the dialogue between Christianity and moderate Islam, not only should the Pope cancel the trip, he needs to make sure there’s somewhere in Italy for Iraqi Christians to flee.
Is the Trip a Good Idea?
This will be the first time a pope has visited Iraq. The trip’s announcement has many Catholics and world leaders alike concerned with the Pope’s safety. Along with the risks of a global pandemic, there has been both a rise of tensions and recent political turmoil throughout the country.
Throw in some very condemning comments about the United States following the Capital riots from several countries in the region, and there’s plenty of questions that are more than alarming. The Iraqi government is calling the trip a historical event. Still, many others are questioning if rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran will jeopardize security.
Jeffrey Stevens is a published author and is currently earning his second degree in theology from Aidan University. His writings are focused on the Christian faith, mixed with some sports writing from time to time. When it comes to his faith, he had articles published on websites such as Catholic 365, Big Pulpit, Catholic Stand, and Joshua’s Outpost.
As a sportswriter, his articles have been featured on ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and Bleacher Report. Jeffrey can be heard hosting the Gospel Grammar show, available on Google Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, and RadioPublic.