Mourners gather near the coffin of a man killed in a twin suicide bombing attack in a central Baghdad market during a funeral in Najaf, Iraq, Jan. 21. Cardinal Louis Sako, patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, said Iraqis are still counting on Pope Francis to visit in March. CNS photo/Alaa Al-Marjani, Reuters

Violence-stricken Iraq counts on Pope

  • January 27, 2021

VATICAN CITY -- In the midst of three days of prayer and fasting for peace and an end to the coronavirus pandemic, Iraqi Cardinal Louis Sako, the Baghdad-based patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, said Iraqis still are counting on Pope Francis to visit in March.

“We are preparing everything with the government,” he told Vatican News Jan. 26, five days after two suicide bombers killed 32 people and injured more than 100 others in Baghdad. In response to the violence and to the threat of COVID-19, the cardinal called Catholics to three days of fasting and prayer Jan. 25-27.

“The Pope will come to say, ‘Enough, enough war, enough violence; seek peace and fraternity and the safeguarding of human dignity,’ ” the cardinal said.

During his planned visit to Iraq March 5-8, Pope Francis “will bring us two things: comfort and hope, which have been denied to us until now,” Sako said.

Pope Francis expressed his condolences to Iraqi President Barham Salih following the suicide bombings. In a telegram sent Jan. 21, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said the Pope “was deeply saddened to learn” of the attack at a clothing market in Tayaran Square.

“In deploring this senseless act of brutality, he prays for the deceased victims and their families, for the injured and for the emergency personnel in attendance,” Parolin said.

“Trusting that all will continue work to overcome violence with fraternity, solidarity and peace, Pope Francis invokes upon the nation and its people the blessing of the Most High,” he said.

Planning for the Pope’s visit is continuing, but sources for the news agency Reuters said it could be postponed depending on security or health conditions.

While some papal trips become national celebrations and an opportunity to showcase the local culture, the Pope’s trip to Iraq will have “mostly spiritual connotations,” Sako said. “It is a very important event for us Christians, but everyone in Iraq is awaiting this visit, including the Muslims, other religious realities and government leaders.”

After the Jan. 21 bombing, which the Islamic State group took credit for, the Iraqi people are worried and sad, the cardinal told Vatican News.

“The people they killed were poor, truly poor people. Unfortunately, these attacks have a political aim; they are a message to the government and also to the new American president.”

Sako said that, fortunately, the time of targeting Christians seems to have passed, but Iraqi Christians are Iraqi and they suffer when the rest of the population does.

That is why he called for three days of prayer and fasting, he said. Christians are praying that the God of all people will bring them peace and that the coronavirus pandemic ends soon.

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