On March 5-8, Pope Francis will visit Iraq, where he intends to bring hope to the persecuted Christian minority, and promote fraternity and interreligious dialogue.
In just over three days, Francis is scheduled to travel 900 miles within Iraq, meeting with political leaders, prominent Muslim clerics, and Christians. He will be the first pope in history to visit the Middle Eastern country.
Warda said that he would see Pope Francis go to the plain of Ur in southern Iraq, which the Bible records as the birthplace of Abraham. The archaeological site at Ur, excavated in the 20th century, includes a Mesopotamian ziggurat and ancient complex of houses.
“These moments [are] very special,” Warda said.
Chaldean Catholics, one of several Eastern Catholic communities found in Iraq, trace their history back to the early Christians through their connection with the Church of the East.
The archbishop noted that with Pope Francis’ visit, “so many people, especially Iraqi people, will know we’ve been here for many centuries and we’ve contributed a lot. And we still are willing to contribute, relying on God’s providence, and at the same time, on the trust of people in us.”
Warda also said he hoped that the visit would leave behind “beautiful memories and scenes where everyone will start [to] think, ‘why should we go [down] the road of violence if there is another road open and it’s open there.’”
Pointing to Iraq’s rich variety of cultures, languages, and customs, he said: “I hope that this [moment] would remain in the lives and memories of all Iraqis.”
Warda said that Iraq’s Shiite and Sunni Muslim populations have also supported Pope Francis’ visit, recognizing its historic importance. Hospitality is an important value to Iraqis, he observed, and they are welcoming a great guest in the pope.
While he said that there are always some people who will see things from a different perspective, Warda emphasized that the general public in Iraq viewed the trip favorably.
“And everyone knows Pope Francis,” he added. “I mean his pastoral approach is unique and a special one.”
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The “majority of the people, I’m sure, we are following the news closely. They are excited. And you could tell from the preparation,” the archbishop explained, adding that Muslims were also among those preparing for the Mass that Pope Francis will offer in the Erbil stadium on the final night of his trip.
The Mass is expected to be the largest gathering of Iraqi Catholics with the pope during the trip. Local authorities in Kurdistan have said that at least 4,500 people have registered for the Mass.
Among the choir and musicians for the Mass, there are 15 Muslims, Warda said. “They’ve really signed up to be there and asked the head of the choir, Fr. Nishwan, to participate in this event.”