Pope Francis held a private audience with Nadia Murad, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and survivor of the Islamic State-led genocide in Iraq, Aug. 26 at the Vatican.
For Iraqis, the first week of August 2014 will forever be etched into their memory as the start of one of the worst episodes of religious and ethnic persecution the country has ever seen when the so-called Islamic State overtook the Plain of Nineveh.
After the trip was announced, the Iraqi Parliamentary Assembly voted unanimously to declare Christmas an annual national holiday, and Salih ratified a law benefiting Yazidi survivors of the 2014-2017 ISIS genocide. Both of those developments happened months before Pope Francis boarded the Papal plane. However, months removed from the trip, experts say nothing has changed.
Perhaps the most authoritative Catholic voice in Iraq has argued that the survival of Christianity in the country depends on the creation of a secular state where all forms of sectarianism are eradicated, allowing the nation to become an example of respectful coexistence for the Middle East.
Pope Francis has sent a letter to Iraqi Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako voicing thanks for his visit to Iraq last month and praising the local church for its charitable activities and its role in working to rebuild the country.
One month after Pope Francis’s historic visit to Iraq, one of the country’s top Catholic prelates has outlined his vision for the country going forward, making the bold suggestion of enforcing a stricter separation between religion and the state.
The meeting between Pope Francis and Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Husaymi al-Sistani can make a difference in America, says Cardinal Wilton Gregory, because it demonstrated “that people from different religious traditions can work together in a spirit of dialogue and mutual respect.”
For many of those who fled Iraq, the mistrust is hard to shake, and despite the joy they felt from watching Pope Francis visit their town, fear is engraved in their hearts.
Pope Francis’s recent trip to Iraq will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on the country in ways that only time will tell. However, in the immediate aftermath, significant developments are already being seen.
On March 7, Pope Francis concluded a three-day whirlwind tour of Iraq that took him to six cities, saw him deliver seven speeches, and marked several historic firsts.