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What are the challenges of this historic visit?

Pope Francis arrives this Friday, March 5, for a historic trip to Iraq. A visit that really mattered to the Sovereign Pontiff, who talking about it for over 6 years. In 2014, as soon as Daesh invaded northern Iraq, the Pope made it known that he wanted to go and support the Christians forced to flee the Nineveh Plain and go into exile further east in Erbil among the Iraqi Kurds.

For security reasons, this is not possible, we have to wait. When Daesh fell, everything was in ruins. The Pope gives 200,000 euros to help rebuild by selling a luxury car that had been given to him.

Today, he can finally come and comfort those who have suffered so much, he said. “the affectionate caress of the whole Church” and encourage them to stand firm in this ancestral land. The Christians of Iraq constitute one of the oldest communities in the world founded in the first century.

François will be the first pope to celebrate mass in the eastern rite in Chaldean, a language close to the Aramaic that Jesus spoke. But, beware, it is not a question of addressing only the tiny Christian minority. The Pope comes to speak to all Iraqis. “You are all brothers” is the motto of his trip.

Promote interreligious dialogue in the country.

Francis chose a very symbolic place for a prayer with the representatives of other religions, Ur city, south of Baghdad. Ur in Chaldea where Abraham was born according to tradition. Abraham – the patriarch, the common ancestor, recognized by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Their descendants are said to be as numerous as the stars in the sky.

In Ur, we are in the cradle of the three monotheistic religions. And on Saturday around the Pope will gather all the religious representatives of Iraq: Muslims, Shiites, Sunnis, Christian communities and other religious minorities such as the Sabeans or the Yezidis. The entire Iraqi mosaic.

It is a meeting for foster interreligious dialogue, a dialogue of reconciliation, and then work together to rebuild the country. But they will start praying together. There will be testimonies, songs, readings from the Bible and the Koran.

“I come as a pilgrim of peace and hope”says François. It was also what John Paul II wanted in 2000: to come to Iraq in Ur, ask for peace, but Saddam Hussein opposed it.

A hand extended to the Shiites

François will meet face to face with the spiritual leader of the Iraqi Shiite Muslims; theAyatollah Al Sistani. In the Muslim world, Sunnis outnumber Shiites, but in Iraq it is the other way around.

Ayatollah Al Sistani is the most important figure in Iraqi Shiism, presented as a moderate, he spoke out in favor of a peaceful coexistence of religions. He receives little, but he will receive François at his home in Najdaf Sacred city of Shiite Islam (this is where the tomb of Ali is, whom the Shiites consider the successor of the Prophet Muhammad). The meeting should be brief, but it is the first contact between these two high religious authorities. “Courtesy visit,” wrote the Vatican in the official program.

Pope Francis reaches out to Shiites after reaching out to Sunnis. He has already signed a joint declaration on human brotherhood with the great Sunni Imam of al Azhar in Egypt. But several meetings were necessary, in Rome, Cairo, Abu Dhabi …

It will probably take some time with the Shiites as well. François is a tenacious man, he has been talking about his trip to Iraq for 6 years.

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