Pope gives Iraqis hope

Pope gives Iraqis hope

Pope gives Iraqis hope
Pope Francis in Mar Youssef Church, Baghdad. (AP Photo)
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It took years for Iraq to emerge from the darkness of near genocide, crippling sanctions, and war. The country has endured foreign occupation, the uprooting of its institutions and national army, and the scourge of religious bigotry, but a new Iraq appears to be finally appearing out of the gloom.
During Pope Francis’ historic visit to the country, the world got a glimpse of the new Iraq, resilient and determined to be an active member of the international community.
The darkness of the past, at least temporarily, seemed to have turned to light.
The Vatican visitor took a chance with his trip to Iraq and his courage was welcomed and reciprocated. But the pope’s tour was unlike those of many Western leaders, who often arrive in Iraq unannounced and leave before anyone knows they have been there.
Francis’ four-day pre-announced schedule went ahead without any changes allowing the world to see the new diverse, multi-confessional, Iraq.
The Catholic leader came to comfort the country’s dwindling Christian population, once a vibrant community. Decades ago, a Muslim Iraqi leader said: “The Arab nation is a beautiful garden and Arab Christians are its most beautiful roses.” Now, those roses have faded.
Numbering more than 1.5 million before the US invasion, there are now fewer than 300,000 Christians in the country. The pontiff’s visit will not reverse this sad emigration but perhaps it will stem it and give those who have bravely stayed on a chance to rebuild their lives and broken communities.
Francis prayed at the church where Daesh terrorists mowed down 57 innocent worshippers. But while his visit was focused on Christian Iraqis, it succeeded in giving hope to all Iraqis.
From the moment the pope arrived at Baghdad airport, he spoke against violence and called for peace. He met with the leader of the Shiite community in the city of Najaf and visited areas in the north of the country still rebuilding from years of conflict.
His appeal for peace included paying attention to the Yazidi community, many of whose members were massacred by Daesh.
Iraq is one of the richest Arab countries. Not only does it have plenty of water and a wealth of oil, but it also has all the elements of a successful nation in terms of an educated population, and a diverse and strategic historic role in the Middle East.
Francis visited the birthplace of Abraham, the prophet revered by the three monotheistic faiths. The pope’s visit to the historic town of Ur was a genuinely unifying occasion, an Abrahamic pledge to turn swords into plowshares.
Iraq displayed its best during the four-day papal tour. Everything appeared to go to plan and the courage of the pope was rewarded with an efficiently run, safe, and successful visit.
The challenges that remain are how to build on the visit, deal with issues of governance and corruption, and nurture the seeds of peace and opposition to violence in order to grow trees bearing fruits of prosperity, harmony, and reconciliation.
The region and the world community must now accept that Iraq is back. It is still weak and vulnerable but the resilience and unified stance of its people in welcoming this important visitor from Rome needs to be built on and strengthened.

Francis prayed at the church where Daesh terrorists mowed down 57 innocent worshippers. But while his visit was focused on Christian Iraqis, it succeeded in giving hope to all Iraqis.

Daoud Kuttab

Middle Eastern and international leaders must follow up Francis’ visit with similar trips and reinforce his appeals for peace and reconciliation. Iraq is yearning to be part of the international community and is clearly open for business.
A new page has been opened and Iraqis want the world to understand that their country is safe and that all are welcome to visit and trade with it.
Iraq should be congratulated on its progress and Francis for giving Iraqis hope and helping to shine a light on an all too often forgotten country.

  • Daoud Kuttab is a former journalism professor at Princeton University. Twitter: @daoudkuttab
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