WINDSOR TERRACE — The head of the Chaldean Catholic Church issued a petition on Jan.14 calling on Iraqi Catholics to pray at Sunday Masses that Pope Francis will be able to visit their country for the upcoming papal trip in March.
“Lord our God, grant Pope Francis health and safety to carry out successfully this eagerly awaited visit,” Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako said. “Bless his effort to promote dialogue, enhance fraternal reconciliation, build confidence, consolidate peace values and human dignity, especially for us Iraqis who have been through painful ‘events’ that affected our lives.”
The pontiff cast doubt on the trip when he said in an interview with Italy’s Canale 5 that he wasn’t sure it could occur because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Yes, I had to cancel trips … because in good conscience, I can’t be the cause of gatherings of people, right? Now I don’t know if the trip to Iraq can take place. Life has changed,” Pope Francis said during the Jan. 10 interview.
Just three days after the televised interview, both Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine after the Vatican started vaccinating its employees and residents on Jan. 13.
The planned March 5-8 papal trip has the pontiff scheduled to visit Baghdad and Ur, a city linked to Abraham’s Old Testament figure, as well as Erbil, Mosul, and Qaraqosh in the plain of Nineveh. Mosul was under ISIS control for more than a year.
This comes almost one month after Christmas was celebrated as a national holiday for the first time in Iraq. The Iraqi parliament established the holiday in mid-December on the heels of the announcement of Pope Francis’ visit. Cardinal Sako also wrote from the patriarchate in Baghdad about the March papal trip.
“For two decades, we have celebrated Christmas in an unstable atmosphere, and the repercussions of the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic have deepened it in an unprecedented way,” wrote Cardinal Sako in his message.
He urged Iraqis to prepare for Pope Francis’ visit “with creativity.”
“We should all, Christians and Muslims, leave our differences aside, love each other, and serve each other as brothers in one family,” Cardinal Sako wrote. “Let us present the interest of the homeland … and join hands as one team in order to change our situation and get out of these crises, by building relationships on the basis of mutual respect and consolidating the values of coexistence.”
CNS contributed to this story.