Pope visit favors Shia-Catholic connection; Iraqi Christians remain divided

Iraq (MNN) — Pope Francis made history earlier this month when he visited Iraq. Today, Catholic leaders praise the trip as a “milestone” for relations between the Catholic Church and Shia Islam.

Speaking to Crux last week, senior official Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso said:

For what concerns the relationship between Christianity and Shia Islam, the Najaf meeting is a further step forward for the dialogue of respect and friendship with the Shia community both in Iran and in Iraq, in which both the local Church and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, which I preside over, have been involved in for years.

“The main impetus of [the pope] coming is a political framework, not a religious or spiritual framework. The outcomes of that are about building relationships between Muslims and Christians,” Samuel* of Redemptive Stories says.

“It was very interesting and very telling that he visited Shia sites and met with Shia leaders as the primary impetus for his travels, which is something most heads of state would never do.”

The Vatican is the world’s smallest independent nation, and Pope Francis is its appointed leader. As described here, “the general politics and governance of the Vatican City are undertaken by the head of the Catholic Church, the Pope… The Pope exercises ex officio supreme legislative, executive and judicial power over the state of the Vatican City.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM MISSION NETWORK NEWS

Interfaith prayer marked by respect, not relativism

Pope Francis recently completed an apostolic visit to Iraq. Any journey of a pope is newsworthy, but this trip captured the hearts and imaginations of many. It was the first visit of a pope to Iraq.

Iraq is a country that has been the center of the world’s attention for decades, being the site of several recent wars. It is the country where the biblical city of Ur is located, the ancestral home of the Patriarch Abraham, who is revered by three major world religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Pope Francis, like his predecessors St. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict, each have embraced the moral imperative to reach out to people of good will across the religious divide and work for understanding and peace.

During all three of these papacies there have been people that are skeptical of such outreach, mainly due to fear of “syncretism.” That is the amalgamation of different religions that can appear to be a sort of “melting pot” of religions. Each faith tradition that engages in syncretism gets added to the mix, and a new synthesis emerges, related to the component parts yet changed and different. There is a legitimate concern that this could happen in interreligious dialogue.

Vatican II in the Declaration on Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate) recognized the pluralistic world of today and reflects that the Church “in her task of promoting unity and love […] considers above all in this declaration what men have in common and what draws them to fellowship” (NA §1).

The misperception between dialogue and syncretism resulted in a message of clarification 35 years later with Dominus Iesus, which clarified that engagement in dialogue does not mean surrendering the truth of the Gospel. It particularly warned against relativism, which some had inferred from dialogue that all religions are the same or are simply alternate roads to achieve salvation.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CATHOLICPHILLY.COM

Pope Francis and Islam: three cornerstones of a magisterium

A common thread links Pope Francis’ keynote speeches given in Baku, Cairo and Ur, which indicate the need for an authentic religiosity to worship God and love our brothers and sisters, and a concrete commitment to justice and peace.

Pope Francis, right, meets with Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf, Iraq, Saturday, March 6, 2021. The closed-door meeting was expected to touch on issues plaguing Iraq’s Christian minority. Al-Sistani is a deeply revered figure in Shiite-majority Iraq and and his opinions on religious matters are sought by Shiites worldwide. (AP Photo/Vatican Media)

By Andrea Tornielli

There is a common thread linking three important interventions of Pope Francis regarding interreligious dialogue, and Islam in particular.

It is a magisterium that indicates a road map with three fundamental points of reference: the role of religion in our societies, the criterion of authentic religiosity, and the concrete way to walk as brothers and sisters to build peace. We find them in the speeches that the Pope gave in Azerbaijan in 2016; in Egypt in 2017; and now during his historic trip to Iraq, in the unforgettable meeting in Ur of the Chaldeans, the city of Abraham.

The interlocutors of the first speech were the Azerbaijani Shiites, but also the other religious communities of the country. The second speech was mainly addressed to the Egyptian Sunni Muslims. Finally, the third was addressed to a wider interreligious audience made of a Muslim majority, yet including not only Christians but also representatives of the ancient Mesopotamian religions.

What Pope Francis is proposing and implementing is not an approach that forgets differences and identities in order to equalize all. Instead, it is a call to be faithful to one’s own religious identity in order to reject any instrumentalization of religion to foment hatred, division, terrorism, discrimination, and at the same time, to witness in increasingly secularized societies that we need God.

In Baku, before the Sheikh of the Muslims of the Caucasus and representatives of other religious communities in the country, Pope Francis recalled the “great task” of religions: that of “accompanying men and women looking for the meaning of life, helping them to understand that the limited capacities of the human being and the goods of this world must never become absolutes.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM VATICAN NEWS

Where Muslim extremists ruled, pope calls on Christians to forgive, rebuild

Francis visits Mosul, which was at the heart of the Islamic State’s “caliphate” and a site of beheadings and mass killings.

Qaraqosh, Iraq • Pope Francis urged Iraq’s Christians on Sunday to forgive the injustices against them by Muslim extremists and to rebuild as he visited the wrecked shells of churches and met ecstatic crowds in the community’s historic heartland, which was nearly erased by the Islamic State group’s horrific reign.

“Fraternity is more durable than fratricide, hope is more powerful than hatred, peace more powerful than war,” the pontiff said during prayers for the dead in the city of Mosul, with the call for tolerance that has been the central message of his four-day visit to Iraq.

At each stop in northern Iraq, the remnants of its Christian population turned out, jubilant, ululating and decked out in colorful dress. Heavy security prevented Francis from plunging into the crowd as he would normally. Nonetheless, they simply seemed overjoyed that he had come and that they had not been forgotten.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

Pope Francis meets Iraq’s Shia leader al-Sistani (from al Jazeera)

The pontiff met Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in holy city of Najaf to urge Muslims to embrace Iraq’s beleaguered Christians.

Pope Francis, right, meets with Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf, Iraq, Saturday, March 6, 2021. The closed-door meeting was expected to touch on issues plaguing Iraq’s Christian minority. Al-Sistani is a deeply revered figure in Shiite-majority Iraq and and his opinions on religious matters are sought by Shiites worldwide. (AP Photo/Vatican Media)

Pope Francis has met with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, one of the most senior leaders in Shia Islam, in Iraq’s holy city of Najaf to deliver a message of peaceful coexistence, urging Muslims to embrace Iraq’s long-beleaguered Christian minority.

The historic meeting on Saturday in al-Sistani’s humble home was months in the making, with every detail painstakingly discussed and negotiated between the ayatollah’s office and the Vatican.KEEP READINGPope Francis embarks on historic visit to IraqPope Francis calls for end to violence in first Iraq addressPope to visit ancient city of Ur, ‘the cradle of civilization’

After the meeting, al-Sistani office released a statement that said religious authorities have a role in protecting Iraq’s Christians and that the Shia leader “affirmed his concern that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights”.

The Vatican said Francis thanked al-Sistani and the Shia people for having “raised his voice in defence of the weakest and most persecuted” during some of the most violent times in Iraq’s recent history.

He said al-Sistani’s message of peace affirmed “the sacredness of human life and the importance of the unity of the Iraqi people”.

The 84-year-old pontiff’s convoy, led by a bullet-proof vehicle, had pulled up for the meeting along Najaf’s narrow and column-lined Rasool Street, which culminates at the golden-domed Imam Ali Shrine, one of the most revered sites in the world for Shia Muslims. He then walked the few metres to al-Sistani’s modest home, which the Shia leader has rented for decades.

FULL ARTICLE FROM AL JAZEERA

The pope in Iraq: Meeting with Ayatollah Sistani and Mass at biblical site Ur (American Coverage)

By Chico Harlan and Louisa LoveluckMarch 6, 2021 at 6:47 a.m. ESTAdd to list

Pope Francis is in the middle of his four-day trip through Iraq, the first-ever papal visit to that country. Here’s what we’re watching:

●He met Saturday morning with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a preeminent figure in Shiite Islam, who rarely sees world leaders.

●The Vatican said the meeting “underlined the importance of collaboration” between the faiths.

●Francis also held an interfaith event in the ancient city of Ur, said to be the birthplace of Abraham, a patriarch for Muslims, Christians and Jews. There were no Jewish representatives.

●“We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion,” the pope said at the interreligious event.

●In the mostly Shiite city Nasiriya, the scene of recent anti-government protests, some people hoped Francis would raise their grievances over corruption and lack of services with Iraqi leaders.

The Vatican had initially signaled a Jewish representative would be involved, but a church organizer said it was hard to find an invitee, because there are so few Jews left in the country, and they do not have an official community.

Francis mentioned “Jews, Christians and Muslims” in his address, saying that the faiths “look up at the same sky.”

“We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion,” he said. “Dark clouds of terrorism, war and violence have gathered over this country. All its ethnic and religious communities have suffered.”

He spoke on the outskirts of a desert archaeological site, now lined with Vatican and Iraqi flags. On the horizon, military members paced the top of a 4,000-year-old mud-brick Mesopotamian ziggurat, the lone remnant of ancient civilization.

Pope Francis, right, meets with Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf, Iraq, Saturday, March 6, 2021. The closed-door meeting was expected to touch on issues plaguing Iraq’s Christian minority. Al-Sistani is a deeply revered figure in Shiite-majority Iraq and and his opinions on religious matters are sought by Shiites worldwide. (AP Photo/Vatican Media)

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE WASHINGTON POST

‘I Come As A Pilgrim’: Pope Francis Begins Historic Visit To Iraq

An Iraqi policeman walks by a mural depicting Pope Francis on the outer walls of Our Lady of Salvation (Sayidat al-Najat) Church, in Baghdad on February 22, 2021. – Pope Francis’ historic visit from March 5-8 will include trips to Baghdad, the city of Mosul in the north and a meeting with the country’s top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP) (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images)

BAGHDAD — On a recent Sunday in Baghdad, a congregation of Chaldean Catholics gather — masked and distanced — to attend Mass at the Church of the Holy Family. Some are from the capital, others fled the north of the country when ISIS seized swaths of territory nearly seven years ago.

“They announced it in the churches — leave, quickly, ISIS is coming,” says Nadera Butrus Tobya, 62, at church with her little grandson. She had been at a gathering before her daughter’s wedding near the Iraqi city of Mosul. The family piled into cars and fled the extremists and she has been in Baghdad ever since.

“Christians are persecuted,” she says. But her face brightens when she speaks of Pope Francis, who plans to visit Iraq next month.

“When we heard that we would see the pope,” she says, “it was as if the world was reborn. Praise God.” Even if she only sees him on television, she will be happy. “He is a brave man to come under such circumstances.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM NPR

Pope moves ahead with plans to meet Shiite leader in Iraq

ROME (AP) — Pope Francis will meet with Iraq’s top Shiite Muslim cleric, Ali al-Sistani, during a trip next month that will also include a pilgrimage to ancient Christian communities that were emptied and devastated in battles with the Islamic State group.

The Vatican on Monday released the itinerary of Francis’ March 5-8 visit to Iraq, his first foreign trip since being grounded for 16 months due to the coronavirus pandemic. The 84-year-old pontiff, who has been vaccinated against COVID-19, apparently intends to go ahead with the trip despite the pandemic and lingering security concerns.ADVERTISEMENT

Francis’ main reason for making the first-ever papal trip to Iraq is to encourage the country’s Christians, who faced decades of discrimination by Iraq’s Muslims before being persecuted by the Islamic State group starting in 2014. Francis had intended to visit Iraq that year, as did St. John Paul II in 2000, but both had to call off their trips due to security concerns.

On his first day in Baghdad, Francis will meet with Catholic priests and nuns in the Our Lady of Salvation Church, the site of a 2010 massacre that killed 58 people and was claimed by the al-Qaida in Iraq group, which later splintered into IS.

FULL ARTICLE FROM ASSOCIATED PRESS NEWS

In Iraq, pope hopes to encourage Christians and build bridges to Muslims

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.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CATHOLIC UNIVERSE

For Iraqi priest, pope’s visit raises hope of restored trust between Christians and Muslims

The Rev. Karam Quasha, a parish priest in northern Iraq, says Francis can mend the ‘broken trust’ between the country’s ancient faiths.

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — In Iraq, the birthplace of Abraham, the patriarch of three major faiths, religion has rarely so divided the country, and Christians, descendants of one of their faith’s oldest communities, feel more threatened than they have in living memory.

The Rev. Karam Qasha, a parish priest of the Chaldean Catholic Church of St. George in Telskuf, in northern Iraq, is among those hoping Pope Francis can mend the “broken trust” between the country’s Christians and Muslims and give courage to frightened Christians.

Francis will visit Iraq March 5-8, making good on St. John Paul II’s attempt to travel to Iraq in 2000 when failed negotiations with the government of Saddam Hussein prevented John Paul from visiting.

Francis is expected to visit Ur, thought to be the birthplace of Abraham, and to meet with political and religious representatives in the country.

“Perhaps his presence will heal the many wounds in the hearts of many faithful and show that the church didn’t abandon its faithful,” Qasha told reporters on Thursday (Feb. 4) while visiting Rome.

According to the priest, “this visit won’t be just for Iraq, but all of the Middle East.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS SERVICE