On his historic visit to Iraq in March, Pope Francis hopes to encourage his Christian flock, badly bruised by sectarian conflict and brutal Islamic State attacks, while building further bridges to Muslims by extending fraternal peace.
The trip’s papal logo reflects this, depicting Pope Francis with Iraq’s notable Tigris and Euphrates rivers, a palm tree and a dove carrying an olive branch over the Vatican and Iraqi flags. The motto: “You are all brothers,” is written in Arabic, Chaldean and Kurdish languages.
The first-ever papal visit to the biblical land of Iraq, set to take place from 5th to 8th March, is significant. For years, the pope has expressed his concerns publicly for the plight and persecution of Iraq’s Christians and its mosaic of many religious minorities, including the Yazidis, who have suffered at the hands of Islamic State militants and have been caught in the crosshairs of Sunni and Shi’ite Muslim violence.
Tensions persist between Iraq’s majority Shiite and minority Sunni Muslim communities, with the latter now feeling disenfranchised following the 2003 downfall of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim who marginalised Shi’ites for 24 years under his minority rule.
“I am the pastor of people who are suffering,” Pope Francis told Catholic News Service ahead of his visit.
Earlier, the pope said he hoped Iraq could “face the future through the peaceful and shared pursuit of the common good on the part of all elements of society, including the religious, and not fall back into hostilities sparked by the simmering conflicts of the regional powers.”
“The pope will come to say, ‘Enough, enough war, enough violence; seek peace and fraternity and the safeguarding of human dignity,’” said Cardinal Louis Sako, the Baghdad-based patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church. The cardinal reportedly has worked for several years to see the pope’s trip to Iraq come to fruition.