In Baghdad, Pope Francis pleads for “religious, ethnic and cultural pluralism”

Pope Francis (left) with Iraqi President Barham Saleh at the Presidential Palace in Baghdad on March 5, 2021.

In a windswept Baghdad largely emptied of its passers-by, confined to their homes during his three-day visit, Pope Francis arrived, Friday, March 5, at midday, for what he described in the plane “Emblematic journey”, a trip he wants encouragement and solidarity with a “Martyred land for so many years”. “Reason for pride”, “Inspiring message for all”, “Historical, religious, human dimension” : Iraqi President Barham Saleh sent him strong thanks for his visit. And, in his words, one could hear the echo of a certain recognition. This time, the visitor did not come to Iraq to order, or to reprimand, or to denigrate.

At the airport, the head of the Catholic Church, the first pope to visit the country, was greeted by the Hymn to Joy and by the Prime Minister, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi. A few hundred people had been allowed to greet him on the side of the road leading from the airport to the presidential palace.

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White mask matching his cassock, the head of the Catholic Church was greeted by bagpipes and a release of doves. Barham Saleh, who has already met his host twice in the Vatican, unceremoniously put his hand on the pontiff’s shoulder, holding back the white mosette that the insistent wind blew. During the presentation of the delegations, ignoring the health recommendations, everyone shook hands. Then the president and the pope, as well as their translator, also dropped the mask during their private meeting, peppered with laughter. At the end of this interview, Francis presented him with a medallion representing the patriarch Abraham, pilgrim’s staff in hand, against a backdrop of Mesopotamia.

“Cooperate in harmony”

The concordance between the spiritual leader and the political leader was found in their speeches. As with every visit abroad, François addressed political, religious, diplomatic and economic personalities gathered at the presidential palace. It is generally in front of this areopagus that the head of the Catholic Church distills his most political messages. He was no exception to this rule.

Having come to the bedside of a very weakened Christian community, he pleaded insistently for a society that allows “Religious, ethnic and cultural pluralism” and vilified “Fundamentalism”, who “Cannot accept” this peaceful coexistence between different components. “The religious, cultural and ethnic diversity, which has characterized Iraqi society for millennia, insisted the pope, is a valuable resource to draw on, not a barrier to remove. Today Iraq is called upon to show everyone, especially in the Middle East, that differences, rather than giving rise to conflicts, must cooperate in harmony in civilian life. “

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