Correspondent in the Vatican
In an atmosphere of overflowing joy, both in the streets and in the cathedral of Al-Tahira -the largest church in Iraq-, the city of Blackberry has lived this Sunday a dream that ends the nightmare suffered from 2014 to 2017: celebrate with Pope Francis forgiveness, peace and hope to rebuild the Christian city par excellence since the time of the Acts of the Apostles.
Visibly moved by the reception, the Holy Father assured them that «our meeting shows that terrorism and death never have the last word. The last word belongs to God and his Son, conqueror of sin and death. Even in the face of the devastation of terrorism and war we can see, with the eyes of faith, the triumph of life over death.
Among the words of greeting upon his arrival at the cathedral, those of Mrs. Doha Sabah Abdallah, who calmly told how had lost a son and a nephew in one of ISIS’s first mortar strikes about the city in 2014, and how “the survivors strive to forgive the aggressor, because our Master forgave his murderers.”
In his speech, Francisco confessed that “Mrs. Doha has moved me. Said forgiveness is necessary for those who survived the terrorist attacks. Sorry – this is a keyword. Forgiveness is necessary to remain in love, to remain Christian.
The Pope has acknowledged to the faithful of the Nineveh plain that “faith can waver when it seems that God does not see and does not act. This was confirmed for you during the darkest days of the war, and also in these days of global health crisis and great insecurity. In these moments, remember that Jesus is by your side».
In a sweet and serene tone he begged them: «Don’t stop dreaming. Don’t give up, don’t lose hope. From heaven, the saints watch over us: let us invoke them and never tire of asking for their intercession ».
He invited them to look at the sky but also at the earth because “there are also ‘the saints next door’, those who ‘live close to us and are a reflection of the presence of God’ (” Rejoice and rejoice “n 7). This land is full of them. It is a land of many holy men and women.
As a personal confidence, Francisco has told them that “while arriving in the helicopter, I looked at the statue of the Virgin mary placed over this church of the Immaculate Conception, and I entrusted him with the rebirth of this city». The Pope has assured them that “the Virgin not only protects us from on high, but also descends towards us with maternal tenderness.”
Referring to the criminal years of the “caliphate”, which used the cathedral as a shooting gallery, Francisco has underlined that “This image of Mary has been damaged and trampled on, but the face of the Mother of God continues to look at us with tenderness. Because that’s the way mothers do: they console, they comfort, they give life.
Tribute to women
And in an emotional tribute to the pillars of society – in Assyria and in the rest of the world – he added: «I would like to thank all the mothers and women of this country, brave women who continue to give life, despite the abuse and injuries. May women be respected and defended! May they be given care and opportunities!».
At the end of the Angelus speech and prayer, the joy, the songs and the applause again overflowed in the temple and in the streets of the city, where thousands of people had gathered, perhaps recklessly in times of pandemic, to give him the welcome and where they waited for him to say goodbye.
The Pope has embarked on a journey by car towards Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, located sixty kilometers away. There he will celebrate in the afternoon a mass for ten thousand faithful, in separate seats due to the pandemic, in the city stadium, capable of receiving thirty thousand spectators. It will be his last meeting with the Christians of Iraq before heading back to Rome on Monday morning.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism