ASIA/IRAQ - Beginning of the Pope's apostolic visit to the land of Abraham

Saturday, 6 March 2021 pope francis   middle east   shi'ites   dialogue   area crisis   sectaniarism  


Ur (Agenzia Fides) - "Here, where Abraham our father lived, we seem to have returned home". Thus, after being received in Najaf by Ayatollah Ali al Sistani (photo), Pope Francis began his speech today, in the plain of Ur of the Chaldeans, in one of the key moments of his apostolic visit in Iraq. An event shared by representatives of all faith communities present in the country, offered as a "sign of blessing and hope for Iraq, for the Middle East and for the whole world", in the trust that "Heaven has not grown weary of the earth: God loves every people, every one of his daughters and sons!".
In his address, which was preceded by readings from the Book of Genesis and the Koran as well as four testimonies, the Pope compared Abraham's journey from Ur to the Promised Land with the journey of all believers and the entire human family through the darkness of today and described it as "Dream of God", who created all human beings to be happy. "God", the Pope said at the beginning of his speech, "asked Abraham to raise his eyes to heaven and to count its stars. In those stars, he saw the promise of his descendants; he saw us. Today we, Jews, Christians and Muslims, together with our brothers and sisters of other religions, honour our father Abraham by doing as he did: we look up to heaven and we journey on earth".
Believers, according to the Pope are called to help their companions "to raise their gaze and prayer to Heaven", and to become aware that "man is not omnipotent; we cannot make it on our own. If we exclude God, we end up worshiping the things of this earth".
In today's world, "which often forgets or presents distorted images of the Most High, believers are called to bear witness to his goodness, to show his paternity through our fraternity" and to affirm, "God is merciful and that the greatest blasphemy is to profane his name by hating our brothers and sisters". Hostility, extremism and violence are not born of a religious heart: they are betrayals of religion. We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion".
On the contrary, the Pope continued "we are called unambiguously to dispel all misunderstandings". In this regard, the Pope recalled the "dark clouds of terrorism, war and violence" that have gathered over this country in recent years, causing suffering for "all ethnic and religious communities". The Pope mentioned in particular the Yazidi community "which has mourned the deaths of many men and witnessed thousands of women, girls and children kidnapped, sold as slaves, subjected to physical violence and forced conversions". Pope Francis also recalled the destruction of churches, monasteries and places of worship in various communities and mentioned the example of young Muslim volunteers from Mosul " who helped to repair churches and monasteries, building fraternal friendships on the rubble of hatred".
The view of heaven, according to the Pope, encouraged Abraham "to journey on earth, to set out on a path that, through his descendants, would lead to every time and place". After God's call, Abraham left Ur for the land of Canaan. His was therefore "a journey outwards, one that involved sacrifices. Abraham had to leave his land, home and family. Yet by giving up his own family, he became the father of a family of peoples". Something similar happens to us, says the Pope, "on our own journey, we are called to leave behind those ties and attachments that, by keeping us enclosed in our own groups, prevent us from welcoming God’s boundless love and from seeing others as our brothers and sisters". The pandemic in particular has made us realize, according to the Pope, "no one is saved alone" and emphasizes "isolation will not save us. Nor will an arms race or the erection of walls that will only make us all the more distant and aggressive. Nor the idolatry of money, for it closes us in on ourselves and creates chasms of inequality that engulf humanity. Nor can we be saved by consumerism, which numbs the mind and deadens the heart". Because the "way that heaven points out for our journey is another: the way of peace", and this demands "especially amid the tempest, that we row together on the same side". And it is shameful "that, while all of us have suffered from the crisis of the pandemic, especially here, where conflicts have caused so much suffering, anyone should be concerned simply for his own affairs". There will be no peace, added the Pope, "as long as our alliances are against others, for alliances of some against others only increase divisions", while "peace does not demand winners or losers, but rather brothers and sisters who, for all the misunderstandings and hurts of the past, are journeying from conflict to unity". That is why the Pope asked for prayer for the whole of the Middle East and especially for "the neighbouring war-torn Syria". It is up to us, today’s humanity, especially those of us, believers of all religions "to turn instruments of hatred into instruments of peace" and "to silence mutual accusations in order to make heard the cry of the oppressed and discarded in our world", and to shed light on the shady maneuvers that revolve around money and to demand that money not end up always and only reinforcing the unbridled luxury of a few".
And like Abraham you have to "take concrete steps". "In order to move forward, we too need to achieve something good and concrete together", stresses Pope Francis, "this is the way, especially for young people, who must not see their dreams cut short by the conflicts of the past!" "It was precisely through hospitality, a distinctive feature of these lands", the Pope concluded, "that Abraham was visited by God and given the gift of a son, when it seemed that all hope was past. We, brothers and sisters of different religions, here we find ourselves at home, and from here, together, we wish to commit ourselves to fulfilling God’s dream that the human family may become hospitable and welcoming to all his children; that looking up to the same heaven, it will journey in peace on the same earth". (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 6/3/2021)