At significant personal risk, the 84-year-old pontiff travelled to the war-ravaged country on a visit to promote peace and coexistence for the country’s beleaguered Christian minority.
Surrounded by the ruins of churches destroyed by the Islamic State group in Irbil, Pope Francis said: "How cruel it is that this country, the cradle of civilisation, should have been afflicted by so barbarous a blow, with ancient places of worship destroyed and many thousands of people – Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and others – forcibly displaced or killed.
“Today, however, we reaffirm our conviction that fraternity is more durable than fratricide, that hope is more powerful than hatred, that peace more powerful than war.”
While in Iraq the Pope met with the spiritual leader of the country’s Shia Muslims, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in the holy city of Najaf. He also visited the ancient city of Ur, reputedly the birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, who is revered in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Iraqi society and all of its faith communities have been rocked by war and violence in recent decades. Christians have left the country in droves, dropping from a population of 1.4 million to only 250,000.
The Pope and all people of goodwill in Iraq will hope that, by supporting peace and reconciliation, the country can find a way back to stability and coexistence for all. Hopefully the Pontiff’s visit will leave a lasting impression.