4. March 2021 – ADVOCACY
Tomorrow, his holiness Pope Francis begins his 3-day pilgrimage through Iraq. It is the first-ever visit by a Christian leader to the crisis-ridden country. In addition to the capital Baghdad, the papal delegation will stop in Najaf in southern Iraq, as well as in the towns of Mosul, Karakosh and Erbil, located in the Kurdish autonomous region. A trip to Ur, considered the hometown of the Prophet Abraham, is also planned. Here, Pope Francis will meet with Christians, Yazidis, Jews and Muslims for an interfaith prayer. In Najaf, he will meet Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, the most influential cleric of Shiite Muslims in Iraq.
Pope Francis welcomes Baba Sheikh, the religious leader of the Yazidis who passed away last year, in 2015 in Rome.
The pilgrimage is intended to promote interreligious understanding and could help to overcome the many rifts between the ethno-religious minorities in Iraq (Christian Assyrians, Armenians, Yazidis, Kurds, Shabak, Mandaeans, to name just a few) but also between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the country and ensure peaceful coexistence.
A vision that we share and also strive to put into practice with our multi-ethnic and multi-religious projects in Iraq and Germany!
Bonds and relationships that had grown over centuries between members of diverse faiths in Iraq were strained or torn apart both by the decades-long rule of the Baath regime and by the effects of the U.S. intervention to overthrow the regime, as well as the military campaigns by the so-called “Islamic State” in recent years. The terrorist militia has particularly swept Iraq’s Nineveh Plains (which were inhabited by many people belonging to the minorities mentioned earlier) with an unprecedented wave of violence.
Many people were forced to flee their towns and villages or were even kidnapped by the jihadists. To this day, more than 2,800 Yazidi women are still missing. In addition, more than 200,000 Yazidis remain in Iraq’s poorly equipped camps for internally displaced persons; without any long-term perspective. Observers also view the future of Iraq’s Christian communities with concern: Of the former 1.5 million Christians in the country, only about 500,000 are left today.
The head of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq Louis Raphaël I Sako said in advance of the trip, “The pope is coming to everyone.”
We welcome the Pope and his delegation’s visit to Iraq as an important sign of interfaith and universal understanding! On the occasion of this important event, together with 45 other organizations working in Iraq, we have drafted an open letter to his holiness. It also includes six proposals for action with which we address the religious leaders in Iraq, both the Kurdish and Iraqi central governments, and the international community.
Baba Sheikh, Yazidi leaders, and HÁWAR.help-founders Düzen and Tezcan Tekkal during their visit in Iraq.