Pope’s Visit to Iraq Still Has Impact for Iraqi Youth

Iraq’s Christian community still feels the impact of Pope Francis’ visit three years ago. Watch the video to hear from young Iraqi Christians whose faith perseveres.

Three years ago today, Pope Francis was concluding the first-ever papal trip to Iraq.

His four-day apostolic visit, 5-8 March 2021, was marked by moments of prayer, fraternity and remembrance with the country’s Christian and Muslim communities. He traveled as “The Samaritan Pope,” bringing the spirit of healing and hope to his meetings in Baghdad, Najaf, Ur, Mosul and Erbil.

At the time, Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda, C.Ss.R., of Erbil, said the pope’s visit was a “powerful model for interreligious dialogue” and “a call to responsibility” to “keep the faith flame shining.”

Three years on, the flame of faith continues to burn in Erbil, especially among the youth, as Alex McKenna reports in “Fueled by Vision and Faith,” in the March 2024 edition of ONE magazine.

Memories of the pope’s visit also remain imprinted on the minds and hearts of Chaldean young adults in Iraq. His initiative to overcome the obstacles to visit Iraq brought hope to people who had experienced great grief and injustice, said Raaed Asaad, a student at the Catholic University in Erbil (C.U.E.), in an interview with ONE magazine.

“I cannot forget his words during the liturgy, when he said that Iraq will be in his heart,” added Mr. Asaad. “He said that, and he left that in our heart.”

Several months later, Mr. Asaad was granted a scholarship and the opportunity to study at C.U.E. “All of this came together, and all this together contributed to having impact in our life, to have hope again [that we will] live in peace.”

Dr. Daniella Hanna, a junior resident at Maryamana Hospital, the Catholic hospital in Ankawa operated by the archeparchy, said the pope’s visit “was a historical event, not only in my life, but in the life of a lot of Iraqi Christians.”

She recalled the preparations for the pope’s visit over two months, “the volunteering, the love, and the happiness … to receive someone kind and merciful like him.”

“He made us feel that we are important. We’re not forgotten, the Christians of Iraq.”

“He also delivered a message, not only for us as Christians, but also for the Middle East, that Iraq is a multicultural country with multiple religions … a message of peace to all, to all religions and nations living in Iraq.”

Yousif Gawhar, a human resources specialist and young adult volunteer at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Ankawa, also reflected on the “big impact” of the pope’s visit, “not just on Christian communities, but the whole community, the whole of Iraq.”

“It brought people together; it gave a message of peace. It also gave a message, especially for Christian communities, that they are not alone.”

Watch this video by journalist Yad Abdulqader and learn how the Christian community in the Kurdistan region of Iraq has continued to grow in its commitment and contribution to Iraqi society since the papal visit.

Laura Ieraci is editor of ONE.

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