Pope Francis' visit to Iraq in 2020 is a source of "great joy and emotion" across the country. It is an event that unites "Christians and Muslims", this according to the Chaldean primate, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, who spoke to AsiaNews about the announcement the Pope made yesterday during the 92nd plenary assembly of the Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches (ROACO).
"My mind is still set on Iraq," said the Pope, "where I would like to go next year". There was talk about a possible visit by the Argentine pontiff to Iraq, but the conditions were not there yet. Pope Francis himself, in February of last year, had said that "we are thinking about it, but the conditions currently do not allow it".
"Now the setting is ready," said Card Sako. "There is greater security, and everyone wants to meet a Pope who goes to the Emirates and Morocco. Iraq also needs his presence and message and it is the right time for this to happen."
In his speech to the 92nd plenary assembly of ROACO, Pope Francis expressed hope that the country "can look forward to the building of the common good by all the components of society, including religious ones, and not fall into tensions due to the never-ending conflicts of regional powers."
When the visit was announced, "people started to celebrate," the patriarch said. "Yesterday I was in Erbil, where I inaugurated, among other things, a large parish hall. Over 500 people were present and they all applauded upon hearing the news of the papal visit," which "is a source of satisfaction and joy" also for the government and the country's leaders.
"Iraqi President Barham Salih spoke to me asking for information on the date, which has not yet been decided. However, even here the organisational machine has been set in motion and is already well oriented."
In Iraqi Kurdistan, Card Sako participated in the swearing-in ceremony of Nechirvan Barzani as new president of the autonomous region where hundreds of thousands of people, including Christians, found refuge after fleeing the Islamic State (IS) group in the summer 2014,
"Today throughout the nation, there is more order, greater unity. Muslims, Sunnis and Shias, are happy with this visit because Pope Francis is well-respected by religious leaders. He was able to speak with an understandable, open accent, which goes to people's hearts, be they simple believers or religious and political leaders."
His presence, adds the Chaldean patriarch, "will boost dialogue in the wake of past meetings, in particular the apostolic journey to the United Arab Emirates, and will boost human brotherhood in Abraham and the common belonging to God, who is the father of us all brothers in faith." The element of God as a common father, he explains, "will also affect Muslims".
Finally, the first visit by a pontiff in the history of Iraq will also be an occasion for the return of those who fled. "The Pope will have an excellent welcome, which calls on everyone, Christians and Muslims, to best prepare to receive him," said the prelate. His will be "a peaceful visit by a man of true peace."