Pope Francis’ apostolic trip to Iraq has a direct meaning of support and recognition for the persecuted Christian community in this country, but also of protection to many other groups and minorities, victims of too many wars and conflicts accumulated over the years. Any other interpretation would be wrong. It is undoubtedly a tour that should encourage the reunion between religious confessions and the coexistence between majorities and ethnic minorities in a country that always has the definitive pacification as a pending issue. The message of peace and solidarity is the directive of the pontificate of Francis since he succeeded Benedict XVI at the head of the Church, and for this reason the express condemnation of terrorism that he made yesterday in his first message of the trip was indispensable. In fact, the terrorism of the Islamic State has provoked in Iraq a “religious cleansing” that made Christians a preferred target of the jihadists; And not only in Iraq, but also in countries like Libya, where in 2015 twenty-one Coptic Christians were slaughtered, true martyrs of the faith. The fact is unappealable: Christians are the most persecuted religious community in the world, and that is why the Pope clearly said yesterday that “the name of God cannot be used to justify terrorism.” Equally relevant was the special memory he also had for the Kurdish ethnic group of the Yasidis, “innocent victims of senseless and inhuman barbarism.”
The papal tour is a vindication of peace and religious freedom, respect between believers and dialogue between different confessions. But it is important not to dilute the tragedy of thousands of Christians persecuted daily in an abstract debate about religious intolerance. Christian-based societies have articulated politically on the recognition of the rights of all citizens, without discrimination on the grounds of their faith. The Church itself promoted this principle after the Vatican Council with the declaration ‘Nostra aetate’, in which it advocated the recognition of the contributions of other non-Christian religions. Religious persecution today has many manifestations and recipients, but the one that falls on Christianity has a name and surname and is subject to a scandalous silence in Western societies, sometimes broken by political initiatives such as the one that led the European Parliament to condemn in 2015 the persecution of Christian communities in various regions of the planet.
Therefore, the trip is risky. Because it is going to remove the veil on the suffering of Christians, of members of other religions, and on the forced exoduses suffered by tens of thousands of them in countries devastated by terrorism and civil wars. Yes, it is called Christianophobia. The spiritual authority of the Holy Father must serve to combat this tragedy and make it visible to public opinion that is unlikely to see in the Church anything more than a target of criticism. In this context, the dialogue with the Shiite community in Iraq, in the person of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, will be one of the milestones of Francis’ stay. It is also a dangerous journey, because Iraq has again experienced episodes of terrorist violence in recent weeks and the Pope’s security will be complex. But precisely this is an added reason for the visit of Francisco, who wants to be close to Christians and other communities persecuted and frightened by jihadist terrorism that, as Francisco affirmed yesterday, yearn for ‘silence the weapons’.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism