Reflecting on the Church in Iraq after Pope Francis’ Trip

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.)

Pope Francis declares hope 'more powerful than hatred' during visit to Iraq - 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.












11 responses to “Reflecting on the Church in Iraq after Pope Francis’ Trip”

  1. Katharine E. Harmon Avatar
    Katharine E. Harmon

    Thank you for bringing our focus on our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq. Lent is not just a time for maintaining our own, private souls, but for preparing our vision to better be Christ in the world, and to better see–and work and pray for–an end to the suffering of those around us.

  2. Donna Zuroweste Avatar
    Donna Zuroweste

    “Creating liturgies rooted in social transformation” begins with using non-misogynistic, non- patriarchal words/names for each Person of the Trinity… true Lenten metanoia for >50% of the world’s population.
    an AI alum

    1. Nathan Chase Avatar
      Nathan Chase

      I do think it is important that we work on diversifying our language surrounding God, thank you for raising this issue. While I was writing this post, I was reflecting intently on Isaiah 49 and the rich language used there to talk about God and God’s relationship with us. This, of course, includes the way in which God is our Mother.

  3. Teresa Berger Avatar
    Teresa Berger

    There is also the fate of Syriac liturgical manuscripts to be remembered, among all the losses, of human lives and of spiritual treasures. Here is a post, by Syriac scholar Ephrem Ishac, about Pope Francis and the Syriac liturgical manuscript that has now been restored and returned to its home town:

    1. Nathan Chase Avatar
      Nathan Chase

      Thank you for this link! I did not hear about this, so I really appreciate it.

  4. Jeff Armbruster Avatar
    Jeff Armbruster

    Somewhere Karl Rahner talks about how all our language concerning God is analogical. He writes that conceiving of God as ‘Mother’ or even ‘Home’ is perfectly acceptable. Rahner wishes to emphasize the relational aspect of God–God as ‘person’ in the sense of an encounter with a true Other who is interested in us–so terms like ‘energy’ or really, ‘Being’ are perhaps too abstract and lose the intimacy required. ‘Home’ meets the criteria because we do have intimate associations with such space: feeling at home in a place, returning home, etc.

    The most immediate way for us to conceive of God as person (not in the Trinitarian sense but as a friend we meet and engage with) is, for us, in familial terms: God the Father/Mother/Son. We end up reverting to what we know from experience. And, these terms convey much of what we experience of God as caring, forgiving, abetting and such.*** This is only metaphor but grasping beyond it is difficult.

    ***not all parents are like this.

  5. Jeff Armbruster Avatar
    Jeff Armbruster

    p.s. my point is about the difficulty in finding non-gendered language concerning God that isn’t too cold, abstract and impersonal.

  6. Rita Ferrone Avatar
    Rita Ferrone

    You know, I’m a little ambivalent about all this “The Lord does not abandon his children” because it seems to me that Pope Francis indulged in some magical thinking about how the Lord would protect everybody from Covid 19 during his visit — and it hasn’t happened.

    Now, two weeks later, Iraq has the highest numbers of infection they’ve had yet, and still climbing.

    Will the spiritual benefits of this trip outweigh the costs for the people who die from this? Did this health disaster need to be risked right now under the sunny view that God will provide? We are talking about a country without a lot of functioning hospitals, and with the only vaccine on tap being Sinovac, which is generally deemed one of the least effective. Yes, I am sure God has not abandoned Iraq. But the Pope certainly abandoned prudence when he decided to take this trip at this time.

    1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur

      Or least with *how* he decided to take this trip at this time. There could have been other approaches to the visit with less risk. Magical thinking about Providence is a human thing, not a God thing.

      1. Rita Ferrone Avatar
        Rita Ferrone

        What would you suggest he could have done differently, Karl?

      2. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
        Karl Liam Saur

        He could have been physically present to smaller, well-distanced, gatherings of people. Ditched the stadium Mass. (I generally would not hate to see the end of mass Masses. I think they are, to be begin with outside of pandemics, liturgically problematic.) We need a diet from the royal progress approach to Papal Shewings. This was an occasion to engage in such a diet.

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