Mass at the Chaldean Cathedral in Erbil, Iraq, on April 12, 2015. Credit: Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk.
A cardinal has called on Iraqi Catholics to pray at Sunday Masses that Pope Francis will be able to visit their country in March.
Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, issued the prayer yesterday amid uncertainty about whether the papal trip will take place as planned.
The cardinal invited Iraq’s Catholics to recite the following prayer from Sunday 17 January: “Lord our God, grant Pope Francis health and safety to carry out successfully this eagerly awaited visit.”
“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.”
“Please our Lord and Creator, enlighten our hearts with Your light, to recognize goodness and peace, and to realize them.”
“Mother Mary, we entrust Pope Francis’ visit to your maternal care so that the Lord may grant us the grace of living in a complete national communion, and cooperate fraternally to build a better future for our country and our citizens. Amen.”
The Chaldean Catholic Church is one of the 23 autonomous Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with the pope. It is one of the main Christian communities in Iraq, alongside Syriac, Armenian, Assyrian, and Arab Christians.
In a television interview on Sunday, Pope Francis expressed doubt about whether he would be able to visit the war-torn Middle Eastern country.
He noted that he had cancelled two international trips in 2020 — to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea — “because in conscience I cannot cause gatherings, can I?”
He added: “Now I don’t know if the next trip to Iraq will take place.”
Local organizers released the logo and motto of the papal visit to Iraq on 13 January.
The logo for the trip depicts Pope Francis in front of an outline of Iraq, with the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and a palm tree. There is also a dove carrying an olive branch flying over the Vatican and Iraqi flags.
The motto — “You are all brothers,” taken from Matthew 23:8 — is written above in Arabic, Chaldean, and Kurdish.
The Vatican announced in December that the pope’s March 5-8 trip would include stops in Baghdad, Erbil, and Mosul.
Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, has expressed the hope that the pope will also visit Najaf, a city in central Iraq considered one of the centres of spiritual and political power for Shia Islam.
The original peace declaration was signed by Pope Francis and a Sunni Muslim leader, Ahmed el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of al-Azhar, in the United Arab Emirates in February 2019.
If the voyage takes place as planned, Francis will be the first pope to visit Iraq, which is still recovering from the devastation inflicted by the Islamic State.
Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil told Aid to the Church in Need in 2019 that Christianity in Iraq was “perilously close to extinction.”
“In the years prior to 2003, we numbered as many as 1.5 million — 6% of Iraq’s population,” the Chaldean archbishop said.
“Today, there are perhaps as few as 250,000 of us left. Maybe less. Those of us who remain must be ready to face martyrdom.”