A bare room, two sofas, a corner table with a box of tissues, an old air conditioner on the white plastered priest. And seated, facing each other, Pope Francis and the great Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Al-Husayni Al-Sistani, the most authoritative figure of the Shiites, two elderly men in black and white who look into each other’s eyes. The meaning of Bergoglio’s trip to Iraq is all in this image taken this morning in the Najaf mosque, the place where Imam Ali, cousin and son-in-law of Mohammed, is buried, the heart of Shiite Islam, considered more moderate than that of Iran.
Francis reached Najaf before moving to Nassiriya and then to the city of Abraham, the plain of Ur of the Chaldeans, for the interreligious meeting next to the great Sumerian ziggurat.
Also on the Shiite side there is talk of a talks centered on “the importance of peaceful coexistenceAnd “the great challenges of humanity”. Al Sistani pointed out that Christians, like all Iraqi citizens, must be able to live in peace and security and clarified the role that great religious and spiritual leaders should play in putting an end to the great “tragedies” of humanity, or “injustice, oppression, poverty, religious and ideological persecution and the suppression of fundamental freedoms and the absence of social justice”.
It certainly is another fundamental step in Francis’ strategy of dialogue, after the signing of the “Document on human brotherhood” signed on 4 February 2019 in Abu Dhabi with Imam Al-Tayyib, Grand Imam of al-Azhar and the highest authority of Sunni Islam. Just Friday, on his first day of travel, Francis had mentioned a passage in Baghdad: “The name of God cannot be used to” justify acts of murder, exile, terrorism and oppression “.
Francis is the first Pope in two thousand years to arrive in the ancient Sumerian city of Ur, not far from the right bank of the Euphrates, the land of Abraham. On the plain where the Sumerian ziggurat stands, after the opening song, we read the words of Genesis 12 (God’s command: “The Lord said to Abraham: go away from your country, from your homeland and from your father’s house, towards the country that I will show you “) and a passage from the Koran. And it is a bitter paradox, indicative of the situation in the Middle East, that at the interreligious meeting in the homeland of the “father of all believers” – the patriarch of God’s covenant with Israel, to whom Christianity and Islam also date back – there is not even a Jew, among Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, Sebei Mandei, representatives of Zoroastrianism.
But Pope Francis, in the end, speaks on behalf of everyone: «Here, where our father Abraham lived, we feel like we are returning home. Here he felt God’s call, from here he set out on a journey that would change history. We are the fruit of that call and that journey. And today we, Jews, Christians and Muslims, together with our brothers and sisters of other religions, honor Father Abraham by doing like him: we look at the sky and walk on earth “. The Pope recalls that “in today’s world, which often forgets the Most High or offers a distorted image of him, believers are called to bear witness to his goodness, to show his paternity through their fraternity”. Here lies the decisive role that religions can play, syllable Francis: «From this spring of faith, from the land of our father Abraham, we affirm that God is merciful and that the most blasphemous offense is to profane his name by hating his brother. Hostility, extremism and violence do not arise from a religious soul: they are betrayals of religion. And we believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion. Indeed, it is up to us to clear up the misunderstandings. Let us not allow the light of Heaven to be covered by the clouds of hatred! Over this country the dark clouds of terrorism, war and violence have gathered. All ethnic and religious communities have suffered from it ”.
Once again, Francis refers to the persecution of the Yazidis and of all those “who have suffered such suffering, how many are still missing and kidnapped, so that they may soon return to their homes ».
Tomorrow he will go to the plain of Nineveh, where Christians have lived since the apostolic age, two thousand years of presence: Mosul, Qaraqosh, the Nineveh plain, the lands devastated by the fury of Daesh after the occupation of 2014, hundreds of churches and houses destroyed, the letter “nun” drawn by the men of the Caliphate on the doors of the houses in point out the “Nazarenes”.
So now he says: “Let us pray that freedom of conscience and religious freedom are respected and recognized everywhere: these are fundamental rights, because they make man free to contemplate the Heaven for which he was created. When terrorism invaded the north of this beloved country, it barbarously destroyed part of its wonderful religious heritage, including churches, monasteries and places of worship of various communities ”. But also “in that dark moment some stars shone”, he notes: “I think of the young Muslim volunteers of Mosul, who have helped to rearrange churches and monasteries, building fraternal friendships on the rubble of hatred., and to Christians and Muslims who today restore mosques and churches together ”. It is a question of walking like Abraham, together: “The pandemic has made us understand that no one saves himself alone. The “save whoever can” will quickly translate into “free for all”, and this will be worse than a pandemic. In the storms we are going through, our isolation will not save us, the race to strengthen armaments and erect walls, which will make us increasingly distant and angry, will not save us. We will not be saved by the idolatry of money, which encloses itself and causes chasms of inequality into which humanity sinks. Consumerism, which numbs the mind and paralyzes the heart, will not save us. The way that Heaven indicates to our path is another, it is the way of peace ».
Here is the point, Francis repeats: “There will be no peace without peoples extending their hand to other peoples. There will be no peace as long as the others are theirs and not us. There will be no peace as long as the alliances are against someone, because the alliances of one against the other only increase the divisions. Peace does not ask for winners or losers, but brothers and sisters that, despite the misunderstandings and wounds of the past, they walk from conflict to unity. Let us ask it in prayer for the whole Middle East, I am thinking in particular of nearby, tormented Syria ». Where to start then? «From the renunciation of having enemies. Whoever has the courage to look at the stars, whoever believes in God, has no enemies to fight. He has only one enemy to face, who stands at the door of his heart and knocks to enter: it is enmity », the Pope says. Seldom has his tone been so solemn: «Father Abraham, who knew how to hope against all hope, encourages us. It is up to us, today’s humanity, and above all to us, believers of every religion, to convert the instruments of hatred into instruments of peace. It is up to us to strongly urge those in charge of nations so that the growing proliferation of weapons gives way to the distribution of food for all. It is up to us to silence the mutual accusations to give voice to the cry of the oppressed e of the discarded on the planet: too many are deprived of bread, medicine, education, rights and dignity! It is up to us to highlight the shady maneuvers that revolve around money and forcefully ask that money does not always end up feeding the unbridled ease of a few. It is up to us to guard the common home from our predatory intent. It is up to us to remind the world that human life is valid for what it is and not for what it has, and that the lives of unborn children, the elderly, migrants, men and women of all colors and nationalities are always sacred and count as everyone’s. ! It is up to us to have the courage to raise our eyes and look at the stars, the stars that our father Abraham saw, the stars of promise ».