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Pope Francis Wants to Go to Iraq, Says French Cardinal

Paul Malo / Aleteia
Mgr Barbarin in Erbil

Trip could be done in 24 hours or less, Barbarin suggests.

Pope Francis wants to visit Iraq, French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin has revealed. In an interview with the Italian newspaper Avvenire, the cardinal-archbishop of Lyon, who has been to Iraq twice since last summer, said the papal voyage might be short but would satisfy a great desire on the part of the Pope.

“It could be, I think, all in a day: departure from Rome, arriving in Baghdad, greeting to the authorities; then Erbil, in the north, to see, meet, embrace the Christian refugees from Mosul, celebrate Mass, finally returning to Rome that evening,” Cardinal Barbarin said. “For him it would be a great joy."

Barbarin, who was born in Morocco, traveled to Iraq in July to inaugurate the twinning between the Churches of Lyons and Mosul. In early December, he took about 100 people from his archdiocese to Erbil “to bring refugees our material and spiritual solidarity and above all, a surprise, a video message of the Pope."

“The Pope was very happy that we were in Erbil. We went there to build houses and schools, bring medicines, establish prayer ties between families, including through exchange of photographs—so you can see the face of the person for whom you are praying,” he said.

The 64-year-old cardinal explained that since 1852, Lyon has kept up a tradition of celebrating the Immaculate Conception feast day with a large "Festival of Lights."

“We make a procession and put lights in all the windows,” he said, explaining that the entourage brought the tradition this year to Erbil. “And they came—all Catholics, and also Muslims, in total 10,000 people. At the entrance of Erbil is a large statue of the Virgin. There we screened the video message of the Pope. Then we celebrated Mass, prayed the rosary, gathered in the Cathedral."

The Pope’s message thanked the Christians of Iraq for their fidelity to Christ, Barbarin said.

Christians in Iraq also wanted to send a message, he said: "They ask us to share their suffering. And to help them stay. … There is no family that does not have stories of expulsion and fleeing from their homes and from their city … The Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, Raphael Louis Sako, as a child, with his family, was kicked out three times! But Christians are aware that without them it is impossible to build and renovate Iraq. But they are increasingly desperate, and many want to leave."


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