First pope in Iraq: a hopeful signal in the crisis?

Pope Francis has made the first ever visit by a Pope to Iraq and his first trip after a year on a Covid break. The pope, who chose the words "You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers" as the official slogan for his visit, has met with the country's highest Muslim and Christian leaders. Commentators commend Francis for this gesture of solidarity and dialogue under difficult circumstances.

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Gazete Duvar (TR) /

Belated sympathy

The image of the pope hand in hand with the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is touching, writes Fehim Taştekin in Gazete Duvar:

“This gesture by two religious authorities willing to listen to and understand one another is historical. ... However, the pope has arrived very late indeed if his goal is to share the pain inflicted on the region by the Bush administration and its 'crusade' mentality, in which the Iraqis were dehumanised, Muslims drowned in each other's blood, the ancient Assyrian and Chaldean Christians were disappropriated and the Yazidis experienced another genocide. But no doubt this lateness makes his message all the more moving. ... We know it will take more than hope. Iraq has been so downtrodden that it will take a long - and concerted struggle - to overcome the trauma.”

Der Tagesspiegel (DE) /

Pope seeks dialogue on equal terms

Francis has recognised what really counts in interreligious dialogue, Der Tagesspiegel comments approvingly:

“Acceptance, respect, modesty. Unlike his predecessor Benedict XVI, he doesn't come across as a clever exegete of Islam, explaining to Muslims how to understand their faith. He doesn't presume to read instructions for action from Islamic scriptures. He understands the desire of many Muslims not to simply adopt the Western-influenced, historically-critical hermeneutics of the holy scriptures. ... Those without an immediate understanding of religion will see only friendly gestures and warm words in such a visit. Everyone else is holding their breath.”

The Times (GB) /

Courageous plea for religious liberty

The Pope's trip sends a message that shouldn't just make Christians sit up and take notice, says The Times:

“It's an expression of solidarity with an ancient population enduring ferocious persecution.Yet, more than that, it is a historic assertion of the ideals of religious tolerance and a symbol of the Pope's conviction, expressed to worshippers in Mosul yesterday, that 'fraternity is more durable than fratricide'. ... His mission to Iraq is a case apart. No pope had travelled there before. He did so, even amid a global health crisis, because it could not wait. The message that the great monotheistic faiths have a shared obligation to promote comity and defend religious liberty is vital. It should be respected and heeded by governments too.”

Libération (FR) /

Francis proving his courage once more

Libération praises the pope for another demonstration of courage:

“His pilgrimage begins in the ancient city of Ur, the cradle of civilisation and writing, and the starting point for a legendary exodus. It was from here that Abraham set out on his pilgrimage, making him the first migrant. ... This political and spiritual challenge alone would have been enough for most people, but this historical journey has even more facets. In Najaf, a highly risky meeting with the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani will take place. ... And on the Nineveh Plains, the Pope will meet Christian communities that have fled the atrocities of the IS militia. According to biblical tradition, Jonah, after escaping the whale, succeeded, much to his own surprise, in convincing all the inhabitants to repent of their actions. That's hard to top, but this pope has never chosen the easy path.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Completing the circle of contact

The pope's visit testifies to a profound change in the Church, historian Andrea Riccardi writes in Corriere della Sera:

“With his trip to Iraq, Francis is taking a first step towards the Shiites. He will visit their holiest city, Najaf, and the grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, the country's highest Shiite authority. Unlike the Sunnis, the Shiites have a representative hierarchy, and unlike the Iranian Shiites a certain separation is practiced between religion and politics. ... With this visit, Pope Francis completes his circle of contact with all the various Muslim traditions. Many problems remain, but within a few years a decisive change has taken place in the Catholic Church's relationship with Islam - a world with many faces.”

Polityka (PL) /

Solidarity over caution

Polityka stresses the importance of the papal visit, especially during the pandemic:

“Why did the Vatican decide in favour of a visit at such a difficult time? ... The pope's answer is more or less: When, if not now? Who, if not me? Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni put it just as simply: Francis' visit to Iraq is 'an act of love for the country, its people and its Christians'. This gesture of solidarity outweighed pragmatic caution.”

L'Opinion (FR) /

Very little influence

L'Opinion doubts that the pope's visit will have a positive impact:

“In half a century, the country has experienced the terrible war against Iran, the merciless dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, two US interventions (1991 and 2003), the severe embargo between the two, the collapse of the state, and the civil war that followed the establishment of the IS 'caliphate', and its destruction. ... The divisions between Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis remain fierce, corruption is rampant and violence is all-pervasive. The country is the scene of confrontations between the US and Iran. Yes, the country's youths mobilised in 2019 to demand reforms like those in Lebanon or Algeria. But their movement petered out, and unfortunately Francis's benevolent voice will hardly do anything to change this tragedy.”