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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

355 "We don’t want war and violence and hatred; we want all people to work together and be friends"

Day 355: Saturday March 6th, 2021:

Day 2 Francis in in Iraq:

"We don’t want war and violence and hatred; we want all people to work together and be friends"

Francis tells Iraqi faith leaders:

"violence in name of religion is the 'greatest blasphemy'

UR, IRAQ — Invoking the shared origins of Christians, Muslims and Jews steps from the Ziggurat ruins of the ancient city that the Prophet Abraham once called home, Pope Francis March 6 called on Iraq's religious leaders to help the country heal and rebuild following decades of violence.

In a potent address only about a month after the country's capital suffered its first suicide bombing in two years, the pontiff urged faith leaders to affirm that violence and extremism are "betrayals of religion" and that hatred of others is the "greatest blasphemy."

"Anyone with the courage to look at the stars, anyone who believes in God, has no enemies to fight," said Francis. "He or she has only one enemy to face, an enemy that stands at the door of the heart and knocks to enter. That enemy is hatred."

Before coming to Ur, Francis traveled first to Najaf, considered the third holiest city for Shia Muslims. While there, the pope took part in a first-of-its-kind encounter with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, one of the world's most influential Shiite Muslim clerics.

The meeting, which was closed to others, lasted about 45 minutes — about 15 minutes longer than originally scheduled. In a photo released by the Vatican, the two leaders are seen in a simple undecorated room with white walls, looking at each other across a corner table while seated on separate couches.

A later statement from the Vatican alluded to the role that Sistani had played in 2014 in urging Muslims to join the Iraqi government's fight against the brutal ISIS regime, saying the pope had thanked the ayatollah for how "in the face of great violence" the Shia community had "raised its voice in defense of the persecuted … affirming the sacredness of human life."

Hassan Amer, an Iraqi who works for Catholic Relief Services, told NCR he hoped the pope's focus on interreligious dialogue might help the country's ethnic and religious communities unite to rebuild the country after the devastation wrought in the years since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and the rise and fall of ISIS.

Amer, who leads a project helping families return to regions once controlled by the terrorist group, cited an Islamic saying:

"People for people, regardless of religion."

"The pope's visit will underline this message for all Iraqi communities," said the CRS official. "The visit will also underline the solidarity of the international community and religious institutions with the people of Iraq, signifying to Iraqis that we can come together to rebuild our country and restore peace, regardless of our religions."

Louay al-Yasiri, the governor of Najaf, told the national Al-Iraqiya channel that the encounter was "greater than historic." Marsin Alshamary, an Iraqi and post-doctoral fellow at the Brookings Institution who has studied the involvement of Shia clerics in Iraqi politics, said it was "surreal to witness such a historic moment."

Francis spoke in Ur to a small group of a few hundred people, gathered outside on a clear but windy day. Excavated ruins of the Sumerian city, founded about 5,000 years ago, were visible at the edge of the group, while the larger Ziggurat, a stepped-pyramid structure, loomed on the horizon.

The pope was responding in his remarks to the testimony of several young people, including Dawood Ara, a Christian, and Hasan Salim, a Muslim, who told Francis how they had borrowed money together to open a simple store to sell clothes.

"We would like many other Iraqi people to make the same experience," said Ara. "We don’t want war and violence and hatred; we want that all people in our country work together and be friends."

Rafah Husein Baher, a member of the gnostic Mandean community, said all Iraqis, no matter their religion, had been affected by war and violence. "Our blood was mixed … we have the same identity," she said.

It is the first time a Catholic pontiff has visited the Muslim-majority country and the first time Francis has traveled abroad in some 15 months due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Francis is to continue his visit in Iraq March 7 by focusing on the plight of Iraqi Christians, whose history in the country stretches back to the time of the Apostles but have become a diminished minority after persecution by ISIS.

While Christians once numbered about 1.5 million in a total Iraqi population of about 39 million, they are estimated now to number in the hundreds of thousands.

Mar 6, 2021

Excerpts by Joshua J. McElwee VaticanWorld

A Morning Offering

I bless the night that nourished my heart

To set the ghosts of longing free

Into the flow and figure of dream

That went to harvest from the dark

Bread for the hunger no one sees.

All that is eternal in me

Welcomes the wonder of this day,

The field of brightness it creates

Offering time for each thing

To arise and illuminate.

I place on the altar of dawn:

The quiet loyalty of breath,

The tent of thought where I shelter,

Waves of desire I am shore to

And all beauty drawn to the eye.

May my mind come alive today

To the invisible geography

That invites me to new frontiers,

To break the dead shell of yesterdays,

To risk being disturbed and changed.

May I have the courage today

To live the life that I would love,

To postpone my dream no longer

But do at last what I came here for

And waste my heart on fear no more.

By John O’Donohue

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