Pope says will ask God for peace in Iraq

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(ANSA) – VATICAN CITY, MAR 4 – Pope Francis said Thursday he
will ask God for peace and forgiveness after so many years of
war on his historic visit to Iraq from Friday to Monday.
    In a videomessage to Iraqis on the eve of his departure for
Iraq, Francis said “I come as a repentant pilgrim to implore the
Lord for forgiveness and reconciliation after years of war and
terrorism, to ask God for the consolation of hearts and the
healing of wounds.
    “Dear brothers and sisters in Iraq, peace be upon you!” Pope
Francis said. “In a few days, I will finally be among you. I
long to meet you, to see your faces and to visit your land, the
ancient and extraordinary cradle of civilization,” Vatican News
    Pope Francis’ visit to the Middle Eastern nation comes as the
realization of a dream of his predecessor, Pope St. John Paul
II, who had planned to travel to Iraq at the end of 1999 but
could not make the journey. The Pope’s four-day journey will
include visits to several cities, as well as meetings with
Christian communities and religious leaders.
    Recent decades marked by war, insecurity and persecution have
dwindled the numbers of the once vibrant Christian communities
in Iraq which numbered between 1 and 1.4 million in 2003 but
presently, are an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 people.
    “And I come among you as a pilgrim of peace, to repeat: ‘you are
all brothers and sisters’,” continued the Pope.
    “Yes, I come as a pilgrim of peace in search of fraternity,
animated by the desire to pray together and to walk together,
also with brothers and sisters of other religious traditions,
under the sign of our Father Abraham, who unites Muslims, Jews
and Christians in one family.”
Pope Francis, turning his thoughts to the many Christians who
have borne witness to their faith in Jesus in the midst of
difficult trials, expressed his gratitude to them and offered
some fatherly words of comfort.
    “I look forward to seeing you,” the Pope said. “I am honored to
meet a martyred Church. Thank you for your witness.”
The Pope went on to acknowledge “the images of the destroyed
houses and desecrated churches” that many Iraqi Christian
communities still bear in mind. He prayed that the many martyrs
they have known may “help us to persevere in the humble strength
of love” and expressed to them “the affectionate caress of the
whole Church, which is close to them and to the martyred Middle
East” and encourages them to go forward.
    “Let us not allow the terrible suffering you have experienced,
which grieves me so much, to prevail,” Pope Francis urged. “Let
us not give up in the face of the spread of evil.”
Further encouraging Iraqis to refer to their ancient sources of
wisdom, the Pope reminded them of the example of Abraham who,
though he left everything, never lost hope and went on to give
birth to descendants as numerous as the stars in heaven.
    “Dear brothers and sisters, let us look to the stars. There is
our promise,” the Pope enjoined all.
    The Pope continued to express his closeness and his message of
hope to the many others who have suffered over the years but
have not fallen. These, noted the Pope, include Christians,
Muslims and more particularly, the Yazidis who “have suffered so
much.” “I come to your blessed and wounded land as a pilgrim of hope,”
said the Pope. “From you, in Nineveh, resounded the prophecy of
Jonah, who prevented destruction and brought a new hope, the
hope of God.”
Pope Francis enjoined everyone to be infected by this hope, “which encourages us to rebuild and begin again” and to help
each other to strengthen our fraternity and to build together a
future of peace, especially in these trying times of the ongoing
Covid-19 pandemic.”
Concluding his message, the Holy Father reminded brothers and
sisters of every religious tradition that it up to us to
continue the journey that Abraham began thousands of years ago:
to walk together, in the same spirit, along the paths of peace.
    Pope Francis concluded his message invoking God’s blessings upon
all and asking everyone to accompany him in prayer.
    “I ask all of you to do the same as Abraham,” said the Pope.
    “Walk in hope and never stop looking at the stars.” (ANSA).


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