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Holy Father's Apostolic Journey
Interview with Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin

Francis brings hope for dialogue and reconstruction

A sign welcoming Pope Francis hangs outside the Syriac Catholic Church of Mar Thoma (St Thomas), in ...
06 March 2021

The following is a translation of an interview with Cardinal Pietro Parolin ahead of Pope Francis’ journey to Iraq.

Iraq is awaiting Francis who resumes his journeys by choosing to bring comfort to a people who have suffered in these years from persecution, war and the violence perpetrated by Isis, but also to continue to build the way of fraternity and the great bridge of dialogue. For the first time in history, a Pope will visit Iraq. The country that is the birth place of Abraham and where one of the oldest Christian communities lives still bears very visible wounds of war and faces those of poverty, terrorism and now Covid-19.

Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin comments on the importance of the journey, highlighting the urgency of collaboration to rebuild the country and heal all the “wounds in order to begin a new phase” as “the Pope recommences his apostolic pilgrimages after this rather long period of hiatus due to the covid-19 health emergency. He resumes them by turning his attention towards a country that is suffering particularly, a country that bears on its body the wounds of war, terrorism, violence, conflict. The Pope thus wishes to show a special attention, a special closeness to this country, to Iraq. The aim and meaning of this journey is precisely that of manifesting the Pope’s closeness to Iraq and to the Iraqi people; and to send an important message: that we have to cooperate, we have to work together to rebuild the country, to heal all these wounds, and to begin again a new phase”.

Three years ago, while visiting Iraq, you said that “Christians and Muslims are called to enlighten the darkness of fear and nonsense”. What is the significance of these words on the eve of the Pope’s journey?

I think these words retain all their topical nature. I remember that I spoke them in a context that was also joyful, because it was Christmas Eve in the Chaldean Cathedral of Baghdad, that was filled with people, filled with hymns and filled with light despite the gloomy weather outside. I think they retain their topicality. Above all, they are in harmony with the motto of the Holy Father’s journey: “You are all brothers”. This fraternity arises from the fact of being children of the same father. It is also a reference to Abraham who was in fact born in Iraq. His adventure began there after the Lord’s call: Abraham, a reference point for both Christians and Muslims. Then it must also translate into a shared commitment. That is why I said that they are called together to be the light in the darkness and to dissolve the obscurities, the many darknesses that were there then, two years ago, and which largely still remain, despite the efforts made to overcome them.

It will be a very intense four-day visit. The Pope will embrace the local church and participate in an interreligious encounter there in Ur, the city of Abraham. He will visit places of persecution, martyrdom and reconstruction. What is the core of this journey?

The core lies precisely in the fact that the Pope wishes to send a message towards the future: this is the core. There are situations and realities that experience a certain suffering, quite separate from where there was persecution, martyrdom. The Church herself is experiencing a situation of difficulty; interreligious dialogue needs to be fostered. However, difficulties can be overcome if there is the good will and commitment of everyone, to join together, to collaborate in order to rebuild. I think that the message, the core will be this: let us not allow ourselves to be blocked by all that has happened, as negative as it may have been — and it has been very negative — but let us look forward with hope and with courage to rebuild this reality that is Iraq.

What is the significance of the meeting with Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani. Another pillar for the bridge of fraternity?

Yes certainly, I think so, also bearing in mind that Al-Sistani is one of the most symbolic, significant personalities in the Shiite world; and moreover bearing in mind that Al-Sistani has always spoken in favour of peaceful coexistence within Iraq, saying that all ethnic groups, religious groups are part of the country. This is very important because it goes in the same sense and direction of the construction of this fraternity between Christians and Muslims that should characterize the country. Therefore it is truly an important moment and I think that it will be certainly one of the most significant moments of the Pope’s visit to Iraq.

In these past few years, more than one million Christians have left Iraq due to violence. Will the Pope’s journey also bring hope for a change in this sense?

Certainly the Church — Christians and Catholics — in Iraq are awaiting with great desire for the Pope. And they certainly need to be encouraged to live their Christian vocation within this situation that is so difficult in Iraq. I would say that for Christians in the Middle East, it is somewhat a vocation within the Christian vocation, to live in their reality, in their environment in their countries. And thus the Pope will certainly encourage this Church to be courageous, to be able to bear witness, and he will also invite them to remain right in place to give a witness of presence. We have already said many times that without Christians it would no longer be the Middle East.

The Iraqi government welcomed this journey as a “message of peace”. How are stability, dialogue, coexistence built after so many years of devastation and violence?

This is a great challenge, a great challenge to which naturally the government and all of society tries to give a response. Let us return to what we were saying, that is, towards unity. There is the need to join together and collaborate. In order to join together to collaborate, to build this unity, there is certainly the need for forgiveness and reconciliation. We have to overcome the past, look forward in this new and positive direction. At the same time, there are also some provisions to be made, for example against sectarianism which unfortunately still characterizes large fringes of society, against corruption, inequality and discrimination, so that each can have their place and each can feel like a citizen of the country, with the same rights, the same duties and with the same commitment and responsibility to contribute to build it. I think that these should be the main paths to attempt to rebuild the country.

Your Eminence, what is your hope for this journey?

My hope is that truly this moment, this much awaited presence of the Holy Father, long hoped for and desired, may be a moment of rebirth, of material rebirth, of spiritual rebirth for the Iraqi people so that this may also have a repercussion in the entire region that needs good examples. And that this may occur in the name of fraternity: “You are all brothers” is the motto of this journey of the Pope.

Massimiliano Menichetti