At the beginning of a historic visit to Iraq, a country devastated by war and conflict, Iraqi President Barham Salih welcomed Friday a "dear and gracious guest" to his country, during his speech before Pope Francis at Baghdad Palace. For his part, Pope Francis issued a crying call, saying, “Let the weapons be silent!” He also called for “confronting the scourge of corruption” and “abuse of power” and an end to “violence, extremism and intolerance”. </p><div> <p>Iraqi President Barham Salih welcomed Friday <a target="_blank" href="https://www.france24.com/ar/الشرق-الأوسط/20210305-زيارة-البابا-فرنسيس-إلى-العراق-تنطلق-الجمعة-في-ظل-إجراءات-الحجر-والتدابير-الأمنية-المشددة" rel="noopener"><strong>By Pope Francis</strong></a> A "dear and gracious guest" in Iraq, at the start of a historic visit to the Supreme Pontiff. Saleh said during his meeting with the Pope at the presidential palace, "While the Pope is a dear and gracious guest between us," there is a "historic opportunity to make it an occasion to reaffirm the values of love, peace, coexistence and support for religious and social diversity, describing this as" human values that resonate with the whole world. " ".
From the Basilica of Our Lady of Deliverance in Iraq, which was targeted in 2010 with a hostage-taking operation that ended with the killing of 53 people, Pope Francis addressed the Christians, saying, “Today we meet in this Our Lady of Deliverance cathedral, and we bless it with the blood of our brothers and sisters who paid here the price of their faithfulness to the Lord … dear. “.
A piece of Iraq will accompany Pope Francis to the Vatican
Pope Francis will carry with him a piece from Iraq to the Vatican, which is a sculpture that forms a miniature copy of the painting The Way of the Cross that one of the most famous Iraqi sculptors carved on the wall of a Baghdad church, and was specially made in honor of the Supreme Pontiff.
Pope Francis’ speech after his arrival in Baghdad
During his speech after his arrival, Pope Francis called for “confronting the scourge of corruption” and “abuse of power”, as part of his support for the Iraqi authorities to improve the country’s conditions.
“But that is not enough,” the Pope said from the presidential palace in Baghdad during his meeting with President Barham Salih. “At the same time, justice should be achieved, integrity and transparency developed, and the institutions responsible for that should be strengthened.”
He also issued a crying call shortly after his arrival in Iraq on an unprecedented historic visit to a country devastated by wars and conflicts, saying, “Let the weapons be silent!” And stressing the “rich legacy” of the Christian presence.
Speech of the Iraqi President Barham Salih
Under strict security measures, the Pope’s motorcade was transported alone on empty roads due to the mandatory quarantine imposed by the authorities during the three days that it would take for his visit to prevent Covid-19. The 84-year-old Pope, who received the vaccine against the Corona virus in the Vatican weeks ago, put a muzzle, stressing the importance of “getting out of this time of ordeal,” the time of the pandemic, “it is better than we were before, to build the future on what unites us and not On what separates us. ”
The Pope renewed his assertion that he comes “in a penitent manner asking for forgiveness from heaven and from brothers for the great destruction and cruelty of mankind,” and “a pilgrim who brings peace.”
During his visit, the Pope carries a message of solidarity to one of the most deeply rooted Christian groups in history in the region, which has suffered for decades in injustice and persecution, and seeks to strengthen its communication with Muslims.
During his visit, the spiritual leader of 1.3 billion Christians will cross a distance of 1,445 kilometers in a country where stability is still fragile. Among the most prominent stations is Najaf, where he will meet the Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (90 years), who has never appeared in public.
The opinion of the Italian press on Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq
Upon his arrival, he touched upon all sensitive issues and issues that Iraq suffers from during his meeting with Iraqi President Barham Salih. “Let the weapons be silent! Let us put an end to their proliferation here and everywhere! Let the special interests cease, the external interests that do not care about the local population. Let us listen to those who build and make peace!”
“Stop violence, extremism, partisanship and intolerance! Let us give the space to all citizens who want to build this country together in the neighborhood and in a frank, honest and constructive confrontation,” he added.
An official reception for Pope Francis in the presence of politicians and clerics in Iraq
He called for “addressing the scourge of corruption, abuse of power, and everything that is illegal”, more than a year after tens of thousands of Iraqis took to the streets to protest against the corrupt political class at the end of 2019.
“At the same time, justice should be achieved, integrity and transparency developed, and the institutions responsible for that should be strengthened,” he said, in order to achieve security and stability.
Referring to Christians who make up one percent of the population, he stressed the need to “ensure the participation of all political, social and religious groups, and to secure basic rights for all citizens,” saying, “No one should be considered a second-class citizen.”
Intervention of journalist Ammar Hamidawi on the visit of Pope Francis to Iraq
He called the Yazidis, “the innocent victims of reckless and inhuman attacks. They were persecuted and killed because of their religious affiliation, and their identity and their very survival were at risk”.
Yazidis were subjected to murder, kidnapping, captivity, slavery and persecution during the “Islamic State” organization’s control over large parts of Iraq between 2014 and 2017.
In a country witnessing severe tensions, exchange of messages and settling scores between several foreign powers, led by the United States and Iran, the Pope said, “I hope that the countries will not withdraw the hand of friendship and constructive commitment extended to the Iraqi people, but rather continue to work in a spirit of shared responsibility with the local authorities without imposing political interests or ideology”.
After his meeting with the Iraqi President, the Pope will begin the spiritual and popular part of his visit.
He will visit Saturday and Sunday Najaf, Ur, Erbil, Mosul and Qaraqosh.
Intervention of an official from Najaf regarding the Pope’s visit
A large part of the Iraqis will be satisfied with watching the Pope on television, and the Pope will most likely use an armored car to travel on specially rehabilitated roads in preparation for the visit, in addition to a helicopter and a private plane for remote transfers, through which he will cross over areas where cells of the “Islamic State” organization are still spread. Iraqi forces declared victory over it and the liberation of Iraq from it since 2017.
Due to the preventive measures from the Covid-19 epidemic, the crowds who used to meet the Pope on all his visits will be absent, with the exception during the Sunday mass which he will celebrate in the open air in Erbil in Kurdistan, with the presence of about four thousand people who have already booked their places to participate in it, knowing that the place can accommodate twenty thousand .
Intervention of the governor of Najaf on the Pope’s visit
The Iraqi authorities confirmed that they had taken all security measures “by land and by air.”
On Wednesday, a missile attack targeted a military base housing American soldiers in the west of the country, in the latest operation of its kind as part of a series of attacks against American interests over the past months, against the backdrop of US-Iranian tension, which is reflected in Iraq, where both parties have a presence and influence.
These attacks are usually claimed by Shiite armed groups loyal to Iran.
One of these factions, the “Guardians of Blood”, announced a truce on Friday on the occasion of the Pope’s visit.
In addition to the security problems, Iraq suffers from a political and economic crisis that has made poverty up to forty percent of the population of forty million.
Christians also complain of discrimination and lack of government assistance to restore homes and property confiscated during the conflict by influential armed groups.
An outstretched hand
Despite this, the Pope calls on Christians to stay on their land.
Years of violence and persecution have reduced the number of Christians in Iraq from 1.5 million in 2003 to only 400,000 today.
But for Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, who heads the Congregation of the Eastern Churches in the Vatican and accompanies the Pope on his visit, “a Middle East without Christians is like flour that lacks yeast and salt.”
Tomorrow, Saturday, he will meet Sistani in his modest one-story home.
He will participate in a meeting that brings together representatives of different religions and sects, including Yazidis and Sabeans.
In his speech to the president, the Pope said, “The ancient presence of Christians in this land and their contribution to the life of the country constitutes a rich legacy,” adding, “Their participation in public life, as citizens fully enjoying rights, freedoms and responsibilities, will attest that healthy religious, ethnic and cultural pluralism can be. You contribute to the prosperity and harmony of the country.
France 24 / AFP