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Christian pilgrimages to Iraq may resume

Ziggurat of Ur

rasoulali | Shutterstock

John Burger - published on 05/08/21 - updated on 05/31/21

Christian leaders set to pray in Ur, two month's after Pope Francis' historic visit.

Pope Francis’s visit to Iraq paved the way, and now, there are serious efforts to reestablish the historic city of Ur as a place of pilgrimage.

Just two months after the apostolic visit, representatives of a dozen Churches from around the world will gather in Ur of the Chaldeans, the city from which Abraham set off on his journey to the Promised Land. 

On Saturday, members of the delegation will pray together at Abraham’s home, in a pilgrimage that also aims to express the hope of seeing the flow of pilgrimages in that area resume and grow, according to Fides, the information service of the Pontifical Mission Societies. 

The Christian leaders were in Basra Friday for the installation of Syrian Catholic Bishop Firas Mundher Drdr as Patriarchal Exarch of Basra and the Gulf. The inauguration ceremony will be attended by the Syrian Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, Ignace Youssif III Younan. 

On Saturday, the patriarch and the other clergy present at the inauguration will visit Ur. Their visit is seen as part of an attempt to promote the area as a pilgrimage destination. Fides explained: 

The desire for increased religious and archaeological tourism in Ur and throughout the Iraqi governorate of Dhi Qar has been at the center of conversations between ecclesiastical representatives and local and national civil authorities on several occasions, along with the call to dedicate more attention and resources to the tourism sector. The Inspectorate for Antiquities of Dhi Qar has already explored the possibility of involving NGOs and international organizations as potential partners in projects aimed at developing tourist infrastructures around the ancient city of Ur. The location in Ur of the House of Abraham represents a potential, undeniable incentive to encourage religious tourism in the area.

Pope John Paul II had desired to visit Ur as part of his observance of the third Christian millennium, but the geopolitical situation at the time prevented the trip. Pope Francis on March 6 participated in an interreligious prayer service there, in the midst of the first papal visit to Iraq. 

Although Iraq, with a Christian history dating back to Apostolic times, can be considered part of the Holy Land, and Ur is seen as an early milestone in Salvation History, Christian pilgrims in Ur have been few and far between in recent decades. One notable exception took place in 2016, when some 200 Chaldeans from Baghdad, including Chaldean Bishop Basilio Yaldo and seven priests, made a pilgrimage there. On that occasion, a Eucharistic Liturgy was celebrated at the archaeological site, not far from the Sumerian Ziggurat, under a tent set up in memory of Abraham.

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