Filoni said that he hoped to be able to travel back to Iraq for Pope Francis’ visit in March. It will be the first time that a pope has visited the country.
The cardinal pointed out that one of the churches that Pope Francis will visit in Baghdad -- the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation -- was the site of a suicide attack by the Islamic State during Sunday Mass in 2010 in which more than 50 people were killed.
“I think of Baghdad where the Holy Father will meet the community, the Chaldean and the Syrian Catholic community in the cathedral where people were killed just a few years ago, will be an occasion to give enthusiasm, courage to the Christians to say ‘Please love your faith. We are with you as Catholics, as Christians, we are united,’” he said.
Filoni also highlighted the pope’s scheduled meeting with Ali al-Sistani, the leader of Shiite Muslims in Iraq, as particularly significant.
“The Holy Father already had occasion to be with the Sunni Muslims, now with the Shia Muslims. So it’s a good occasion to have an interreligious dialogue,” he said.
The meeting with the Shiite leader will take place in Najaf, which the cardinal pointed out is close to the tomb of the prophet Ezekiel, who “encouraged the people of Jerusalem enslaved there during [the] Babylonian exile.”
“He gave them hope. He gave them a vision, a vision that one day from bones, dead bones, new bodies will start. This is a vision. We have to think about it.”
“I was there to visit this tomb and I remember also how many Muslim pilgrims used to go to pray,” he said.
The cardinal acknowledged that security continues to be an issue in Iraq, but he said that the Iraqi people were “building slowly” towards peace.
“It is a necessity that all minorities parts, religious, civil, all will concur in some way. You cannot just have peace because someone is imposing, but because you are building… This is internally, is up to them, but externally, to me is also we have to help them to get this condition, this peaceful condition,” he said.
Filoni shared his hope that Pope Francis’ visit to the northern regions of Iraq would be an encouragement to all the minority communities, including the Christians who suffered so much under the persecution of the Islamic State.
(Story continues below)
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“In the north, I remember well, when I used to meet people, Christians, our Christians,” he said.
“In a very strong spirit of faith … you are moved by the fact to see how deep is the faith of the people there.”