Amid the long shadow of the pandemic, the Senate’s passage of the next round of stimulus, and Oprah’s interview with Meghan and Harry, it was easy (sadly) to miss Pope Francis’ historic visit to Iraq – the first by any Pope.
While things can undoubtedly be said about the liturgies, in particular the Pope’s use of the Eastern Rite, my attention was drawn to the image of Pope Francis leading prayer in front of a bombed-out church in Mosul. (For more photos, check out CNN.)
In seeing this image, I am drawn back to 2014 when ISIS/ISIL took control of Qaraqosh and Mosul, a tragic event that I reported on for Pray Tell at the time. Pray Tell even heard voices from the ground in Iraq, including Fr. Najeeb Michaeel and Archbishop Bashar Warda, the bishop of Erbil. They were crying out, telling the Church that “We must save the minorities of Iraq.” I drew our readers’ attention to the crisis as it continued to unfold in 2015. I should likely have done more to keep our attention focused on their plight.
Nevertheless, the Lord does not abandon his children.
As I look at that image of Pope Francis in Mosul, I am taken back to the words of Archbishop Bashar Warda in 2014. Then he said: “there are maybe one or two [Christians] in Qaramless…And none that we know of in Mosul. This is the end.” But we know now that it was not the end. Pope Francis (a POPE!) just visited Mosul! The Lord does not abandon his children.
The War in Iraq devastated the Christian community in Iraq and ISIS/ISIL appeared to be the death knell for the community. The number of Christians in Iraq declined from about 1.5 million in the early 2000’s to about 200,000-400,000 today. Despite it all, the Church remains, albeit in a fragile state. As Archbishop Warda said ahead of the Pope’s visit: “As Christians, of course, I know that our problems and challenges will remain. However, the whole media, local and international, will tell the story of Christians in Iraq, which is 2,000 years [old].”
The Lord does not abandon his children.
While many are cautiously optimistic about what the Pope’s visit will mean for Christians in Iraq in the long term, I think his visit should not only serve as a balm for the Christians there but a reminder to the Church across the world of the plight of Christians in the ancient cradle of the faith.
Amid it all, I have no doubt that the Lord does not abandon his children, but we should not either. This, I think, is the central message of Pope Francis’ visit. The Lord works in mysterious ways and will not abandon his children, but a little help and attentiveness from the rest of his children wouldn’t hurt either…
And as M. Francis Mannion reported at the time, our sisters and brothers in the faith around the world could really use our help.
I will end by echoing what I said in 2015: Please join me in keeping things in perspective, advocating for our Christian brothers and sisters being persecuted, taking concrete steps to relieve their pain, praying for them in their time of need, and creating liturgies that are rooted in social transformation.