Iraqi Christians are looking forward to the upcoming Papal Visit on March 5-8, 2021 after being years of devastation from IS persecution, a report says.
The Christian communities in Iraq suffered severely when the Islamic State attacked in 2014 causing the death of many while millions flee into foreign lands as far as Germany and Australia, and less than 500,000 to return and remain to rebuild their lives, the Associated Press reported.
Places that the Pope will be going to in Iraq, the Associated Press pointed out, are already setup with Iraqi and Vatican flags, as well as, flags with the Pope's image on it with his apostolic visit coming in two weeks time. These signs give hope to the Iraqi communities that they "are not alone," which the Pope's upcoming visit wishes to convey.
"You're not alone. There's someone who is thinking of you, who is with you. And these signs are so important. So important," stressed Vatican Development Office Undersecretary Monsignor Segundo Tejado Muñoz to the Associated Press.
The Associated Press said that when the IS onslaught took place, Iraqi homes were ransacked while buildings were charred or pulverized along the lost of lives and the scattering of the Christians who fled for their lives, leaving areas such as the Nineveh Plains much like a ghost town.
As per the Associated Press, the Vatican and the Pope have frequently pushed for the preservation of Iraq's ancient Christian communities and have extended help by coordinating a Catholic non-governmental organization network to restore Iraq and provide needs such as education and health care to both Christians and Muslims, which is also a way to restore interfaith dialogue and balance. The Pope's visit is one way to strengthen that interfaith dimension alongside restoring hope to the Christian communities there.
"People want to look for a better future for their families, so you can't stop them if they have the intention of going somewhere else. But at least we try to create the conditions they might return," Tejado raised.
According to Vatican News, the Pope announced last December 7 of his plans to visit Iraq to fulfill the dream of St. Pope John Paul II who wanted to visit it in 1999 but wasn't able to do so due to security reasons brought by Saddam Hussein.
The Iraqi government, as per Vatican News, invited the pontiff last July 2019 to visit Iraq in the hope of restoring the country "from years of strife" that originally began because of th 2003 US-led invasion. The Pope's announcement of coming to Iraq was well appreciated by its government who called it as a "historic event".
"It symbolizes a message of peace to Iraq and the whole region," Iraq's foreign ministry told Vatican News in an article posted on February 19.
In line with the upcoming apostolic visit of the Pope, the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Baghdad Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako called on everyone to continue to pray for the safety of the pontiff and called on the media to "more positive and supportive of everything that would make this visit a success". He also reminded everyone that the Pope is coming to Iraq not "to solve all the problems" of the country since that is "the responsibility of the Iraqi government".
Vatican News highlighted that Sako has composed a prayer for the Pope's visit and has asked Iraqi churches to recite it since January 17.
During his informal conversation with a group of journalists from the US Bishop's Conference, particularly from the Catholic News Service, Pope Francis expressed his desire to go to Iraq despite the coronavirus pandemic because "he wanted to show his closeness to the Iraqi people as Pope St. John Paul II had intended to do" besides speaking about media's role in building unity and the situation of the Catholic Church in the United States today.