While meeting with Iraqi Christian leaders on Monday, Pope Francis encouraged Iraqi Christian communities to promote dialogue and build fraternity to prevent extremism and fundamentalism.
He held an audience with representatives from the Christian Churches in Iraq visiting Rome, celebrating the first anniversary of his apostolic journey to the country in March 2021.
Members of the Iraqi delegation included Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Nicodemus Daoud of Mosul and East Assyrian Bishop Abris Youkhanna of Kirkuk and Diana, who thanked the pope for his visit last year.
Pope Francis told his audience that Iraq is the cradle of civilization and Christianity, adding: “I bow before the suffering and martyrdom of those who have preserved the faith, even at the cost of their lives.”
He said: “Iraq without Christians would no longer be Iraq, because Christians, along with other believers, contribute strongly to the country’s specific identity as a place where co-existence, tolerance and mutual acceptance have flourished ever since the first centuries.”
He added: “No stone should be left unturned in ensuring that Christians continue to feel that Iraq is their home, and that they are citizens in their own right.”
Pope Francis said Christians have a duty to ensure dialogue with other faiths and community groups, as that is “the best antidote to extremism, which is a danger for the followers of any religion and a grave threat to peace.”
He added that fundamentalism can be eradicated only by addressing its root causes, which include “material, cultural and educational poverty, and situations of injustice and vulnerability.”
Daoud said the pope’s visit in March 2021 had a positive impact on interreligious relations, with Muslims better understanding and appreciating their Christian compatriots.
Youkhanna said the visit inspired a “new impulse and light” to religious dialogue in Iraq, adding: “Dialogue is made up of human relationships that constantly reminds us that we are all children of God, and therefore brothers.”