He insisted on remaining in Iraq for the entirety of his diplomatic assignment throughout the first years of the Iraq War.
He was nearly killed when a car bomb exploded next to the nunciature in February 2006.
“If you are a priest, you are [a] pastor, you cannot abandon your people,” Filoni said.
“When I was there, I said to the priests and the bishops: ‘We stay here; we don’t go away.’ We have to follow our people. We asked to open all the churches, to open the seminary, to open our shelters, so those who would like to come and to stay with us because they are fearing to be touched by bombs, they can come and find shelter in our places,” he said.
“And a lot of people, nighttime used to come in the churches bringing the mattress and staying together. It was a moment also sharing with the Muslims and the Christians also brotherhood.”
The cardinal wrote a book based on his experiences as a papal diplomat in Iraq from 2001 to 2006 entitled “The Church in Iraq.”
He went on to serve as nuncio to the Philippines, “sostituto” at the Secretariat of State, and prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. He is currently the Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
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.
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
“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.