In the ruins of four destroyed churches, Pope Francis entrusts to God "the many victims of man’s hatred for man."
On Sunday morning, March 7, Pope Francis arrived at the Hosh al-Bieaa centre in Mosul where he prayed — amid the ruins and along with the people of Iraq — for all victims of war in the country and throughout the entirety of the Middle East.
He was in a plaza that is surrounded by four churches, each of which has been damaged or destroyed by the violence.
Before addressing the small crowd gathered among the ruins of the four churches, Pope Francis was greeted by the Archbishop of Mosul, Najeeb Michaeel. He then heard the testimony of a Catholic priest and a Sunni man, victims of the terror that rampaged through the city of Mosul.
The Holy Father lamented that so many Christians have been forced to flee: “Indeed such a richly diverse cultural and religious fabric as this is weakened by the loss of any of its members, however small. As in one of your intricately designed carpets, one small thread torn away can damage the rest.”
Today we raise our voices in prayer to Almighty God for all the victims of war and armed conflict. Here in Mosul, the tragic consequences of war and hostility are all too evident. How cruel it is that this country, the cradle of civilization, should have been afflicted by so barbarous a blow, with ancient places of worship destroyed and many thousands of people – Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and others – forcibly displaced or killed! Today, however, we reaffirm our conviction that fraternity is more durable than fratricide, that hope is more powerful than hatred, that peace more powerful than war. This conviction speaks with greater eloquence than the passing voices of hatred and violence, and it can never be silenced by the blood spilled by those who pervert the name of God to pursue paths of destruction.
If God …
Before his prayer, the Pope poignantly reflected:
If God is the God of life – for so he is – then it is wrong for us to kill our brothers and sisters in his Name.
If God is the God of peace – for so he is – then it is wrong for us to wage war in his Name.
If God is the God of love – for so he is – then it is wrong for us to hate our brothers and sisters.
Then, the Holy Father invited everyone, whether near or far, to “join in praying for all the victims of war,” and for ourselves, he added. “May all of us – whatever our religious tradition – live in harmony and peace, conscious that in the eyes of God, we are all brothers and sisters.”
Full text of Pope Francis’ prayer
Most High God, Lord of all ages, you created the world in love and never cease to shower your blessings upon your creatures. From beyond the sea of suffering and death, from beyond all temptations to violence, injustice and unjust gain, you accompany your sons and daughters with a Father’s tender love.
Yet we men and women, spurning your gifts and absorbed by all-too-worldly concerns have often forgotten your counsels of peace and harmony. We were concerned only with ourselves and our narrow interests. Indifferent to you and to others, we barred the door to peace. What the prophet Jonah heard said of Nineveh was repeated: the wickedness of men rose up to heaven (cf. Jonah 1:2). We did not lift pure hands to heaven (cf. 1 Tim 2:8), but from the earth there arose once more the cry of innocent blood (cf. Gen 4:10). In the Book of Jonah, the inhabitants of Nineveh heeded the words of your prophet and found salvation in repentance. Lord, we now entrust to you the many victims of man’s hatred for man. We too implore your forgiveness and beg the grace of repentance: Kyrie eleison! Kyrie eleison! Kyrie eleison!
(Brief moment of silence)
Lord our God, in this city, we see two signs of the perennial human desire for closeness to you: the Al-Nouri Mosque, with its Al-Hadba minaret, and the Church of Our Lady of the Hour, whose clock for more than a century has reminded passersby that life is short and that time is precious. Teach us to realize that you have entrusted to us your plan of love, peace and reconciliation, and charged us to carry it out in our time, in the brief span of our earthly lives. Make us recognize that only in this way, by putting it into practice immediately, can this city and this country be rebuilt, and hearts torn by grief be healed. Help us not to pass our time in promoting our selfish concerns, whether as individuals or as groups, but in serving your loving plan. And whenever we go astray, grant that we may heed the voice of true men and women of God and repent in due time, lest we be once more overwhelmed by destruction and death.
To you we entrust all those whose span of earthly life was cut short by the violent hand of their brothers and sisters; we also pray to you for those who caused such harm to their brothers and sisters. May they repent, touched by the power of your mercy.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace. Amen.
The occupation of Mosul
Between June 2014 and July 2017 Mosul was occupied by the so-called Islamic State. An estimated half million people, including more than 120,000 Christians, fled from Mosul, which had a population of 1,846,500 in 2004. The city has been subjected to systematic devastation and this has led to the destruction of, among other things, numerous churches, the mausoleum of ‛Awn ad-dīn, Nabī Yūnis (the mausoleum of the prophet Jonah) and a section of the walls of the site of Nineveh, as well as that of rare manuscripts and more than 100,000 books preserved in the Library, archaeological finds and numerous statues in the collections of the Nineveh Museum.
In June 2017 the so-called Islamic State, encircled by government forces, and with control of the old city alone, destroyed the mosque of Mūr ad-dīn, the symbol of the Caliphate, which, however, a few days later was recaptured by the Iraqi army along with a part of the medieval area of the city.
In July 2017, after nine months of fighting, Mosul was liberated.
5 things to know about the Christians of Iraq
[Article with material from Vatican News]