“The response to war is not another war; the response to weapons is not other weapons... the response is fraternity”, Pope Francis said at the General Audience on Wednesday morning, 10 March, as he recalled his recent Apostolic Journey to Iraq. Addressing the faithful from the private library of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, he stressed that the people of Iraq have the right to live in peace. The following is a translation of the Holy Father’s catechesis, which he shared in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the past few days, the Lord allowed me to visit Iraq, carrying out a project of Saint John Paul
After this Visit, my soul is filled with gratitude — gratitude to God and to all those who made it possible: to the President of the Republic and the Government of Iraq; to the country’s Patriarchs and Bishops, together with all the ministers and the faithful of the respective Churches; to the religious Authorities, beginning with the Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani, with whom I had an unforgettable meeting in his residence in Najaf.
I deeply felt the penitential sense of this pilgrimage: I could not draw near to that tortured people, to that martyr-Church, without taking upon myself, in the name of the Catholic Church, the cross they have been carrying for years; an enormous cross, like the one placed at the entrance of Qaraqosh. I felt it particularly seeing the still-open wounds of the destruction, and even more so when meeting and hearing the testimony of those who survived the violence, persecution, exile…. And at the same time, I saw around me the joy of welcoming Christ’s messenger; I saw the hope of being open to a horizon of peace and fraternity, summed up in Jesus’ words that were the motto of the Visit: “You are all brothers” (Mt 23:8). I found this hope in the discourse of the President of the Republic. I discovered it again in the many greetings and testimonies, in the songs and gestures of the people. I read it on the luminous faces of the young people and in the vivacious eyes of the elderly. People stood waiting for the Pope for 5 hours, even women with children in their arms. They waited and in their eyes there was hope.
The Iraqi people have the right to live in peace; they have the right to rediscover the dignity that belongs to them. Their religious and cultural roots go back thousands of years: Mesopotamia is the cradle of civilization. Historically, Baghdad is a city of primary importance, which for centuries housed the richest library in the world. And what destroyed it? War. War is always that monster that transforms itself with the change of epochs and continues to devour humanity. But the response to war is not another war; the response to weapons is not other weapons. And I asked myself: who was selling the weapons to the terrorists? Who sells weapons today to the terrorists, who are carrying out massacres in other areas, let us think of Africa, for example? It is a question that I would like someone to answer. The response is not war, but the response is fraternity. This is the challenge not only for Iraq: it is the challenge for many regions in conflict and, ultimately, it is the challenge for the entire world: fraternity. Will we be capable of creating fraternity among us, of building a culture of brothers and sisters? Or will we continue with the logic Cain began, war? Brotherhood, fraternity.
For this reason, we met and we prayed, Christians and Muslims, along with representatives of other religions, in Ur, where Abraham received God’s call some four thousand years ago. Abraham is our father in faith because he listened to the voice of God who promised him descendants; he left everything and departed. God is faithful to His promises and still today guides our steps toward peace; He guides the steps of those who journey on Earth with their gaze turned toward Heaven. And in Ur, standing together under those luminous heavens — the same heavens in which our father Abraham saw us, his descendants — that phrase seemed to resound once again in our hearts: You are all brothers and sisters.
A message of fraternity came from the ecclesial encounter in the Syro-Catholic Cathedral of Baghdad, where in 2010 forty-eight people were killed, including two priests, during the celebration of Mass. The Church in Iraq is a martyr Church. And in that temple — which bears, inscribed in the stone, the memory of those martyrs — the joy of the encounter resounded: my amazement at being in their midst mingled with their joy at having the Pope among them.
We launched a message of fraternity from Mosul and from Qaraqosh, along the Tigris River, near the ruins of ancient Nineveh. The ISIS occupation caused thousands and thousands of inhabitants to flee, including many Christians of different confessions and other persecuted minorities, especially the Yazidi. The ancient identity of these cities has been ruined. Now they are trying hard to rebuild; Muslims are inviting Christians to return, and together they are restoring churches and mosques. Fraternity is there. And, please, let us continue to pray for them, our sorely tried brothers and sisters, so they might have the strength to start over. And thinking of the many Iraqis who have emigrated, I would like to say to them: you have left everything, like Abraham; like him, safeguard faith and hope, and be weavers of friendship and of fraternity wherever you are. And, if you can, return.
A message of fraternity came from the two Eucharistic Celebrations: the one in Baghdad, in the Chaldean Rite, and the one in Erbil, the city in which I was welcomed by the President of the region and its Prime Minister, by the Authorities — whom I thank so much for having come to welcome me — and I was also welcomed by the people. Abraham’s hope, and that of his descendants, were realized in the mystery we celebrated, in Jesus, the Son that God the Father did not spare, but gave for everyone’s salvation: through His death and resurrection, He opened the way to the promised land, to that new life where tears are dried, wounds healed, brothers and sisters reconciled.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us praise God for this historic Visit and let us continue to pray for that Land and for the Middle East. In Iraq, despite the roar of destruction and weapons, the palm trees, a symbol of the country and of its hope, have continued to grow and bear fruit. So it is for fraternity: like the fruit of the palm trees, it does not make noise, but is fruitful and grows. May God, who is peace, grant a future of fraternity to Iraq, to the Middle East and to the entire world!
I cordially greet the English-speaking faithful. May our Lenten journey bring us to the joy of Easter with hearts purified and renewed by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Upon you and your families I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. God bless you!
Lastly, my thoughts, as always, go to the elderly, to young people, to the sick and to newlyweds. I invoke divine grace upon each one, so that whether in youth, in suffering, or in mutual conjugal love, you may receive the joy of Easter, revitalized by the journey of conversion and penance that we are now experiencing. My blessing to all.