Pope Francis' trip to Iraq

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From 5 to 8 March, Pope Francis became the first Pope ever to visit Iraq. The Holy met state delegates and representatives of other religions, but the aim of his visit was the country’s Christian minority. We are pleased that Regina Lynch, Head of Projects, was able to accompany the Pope on his trip.

Arrival of the Pope at Franso Hariri Stadium, Erbil

We have been active in Iraq for many years. Following liberation from the Islamic State (IS), we supported Christians with more than 48 million euros to rebuild their homes destroyed by IS.

The Head of Projects accompanied Pope Francis on his trip

Regina Lynch, Head of Projects, accompanied the Pope on his trip as the official ROACO delegate. ROACO is the association of Eastern Church relief agencies under the direction of the Vatican Congregation for the Eastern Churches. “The Holy Father’s trip to Iraq was a real sign of encouragement. It was a message of hope for Iraqi Christians, tested in their faith through the centuries. As a minority, one can feel abandoned, but the fact that Pope Francis came to their country at such a difficult time gave hope to Iraqi Christians,” shares Lynch.

Interfaith peace meeting with Pope Francis in Ur, the spiritual place of origin of the three Abrahamic religions

The Pope’s visit has also changed the way other faith communities in Iraq look at Christians, she pointed out. They understood that Christians are not guests from the West, but a real part of the country and the region. “This is what Cardinal Sako, Patriarch of the Chaldean Church, assured me. We hope that this new attention will be maintained,” declares Regina Lynch.

Lynch now hopes that the Pope’s visit will lead to further steps towards improving the situation of Christians in Iraq: “Of particular importance were inter-religious meetings. Especially the meeting with the head of the Shiites in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, was important. After all, he has influence on large sections of the Shiites in the country. These were very positive steps.”

« We Christians are not guests, but original inhabitants of the country.»
The Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil, Bashar Warda

According to Lynch, the emotional highlight of the trip was the Pope’s visit to the majority Christian town of Qaraqosh, or Bakhdida as the Christians call it. Prior to the IS militia invasion, it was the largest Christian town in Iraq. After Iraqi forces and their allies recaptured these areas in October 2016, tens of thousands of displaced Christians returned to their homes.

Painting of the Pope on a wall in the streets of Baghdad

According to the latest data from ACN, which has been instrumental in rebuilding these homes, 43% of the Christian families who lived in Bakhdida before the invasion have now returned. Regina Lynch describes her impressions: “The joy of the people was contagious. I saw nuns dancing. Thousands lined the streets as the Pope drove by. These were the people forced to leave their homes because of IS terrorist militias, but had come back. The Pope really saw the living stones of the Church in Iraq here.”

«We hope that the visit will raise awareness for us Christians in Iraq.»
The Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil, Bashar Warda

The testimony given to the Pope by a Christian woman whose son had been killed by IS touched Lynch. “Her faith moved her to forgive the perpetrators. That was a very powerful moment.” She said that the Pope made it clear in various speeches that this was precisely the mission of Christians in Iraq.

A boy waits for the Pope in Qaraqosh.

“They are to be instruments of peace and reconciliation. This is the testimony they offer to society as a whole in the country. This does not depend on size. A mustard seed is enough,” Lynch stresses. Now, she says, it is important to take advantage of the attention given to the country by the Pope’s visit. “The global interest in the visit was huge. There was a lot of international media coverage. I hope this motivates the international community to provide assistance in Iraq. Because the challenges remain great.”