Pope Francis arrived in Iraq Friday for a three-day visit aimed at encouraging the nation's historic but diminishing Christian community amid tight security measures and worries about how the trip may facilitate the spread of the coronavirus.
Francis said he had come to Iraq as a "penitent" to beg heavenly forgiveness for the "destruction and cruelty" the country had experienced in the years since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and the rise and fall of the brutal ISIS regime.
Speaking to Iraqi President Barham Salih, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and about 150 other politicians, diplomats and civil servants, the pontiff made impassioned and repeated pleas that the country might avert further conflict.
On Saturday, Francis called on Iraq's religious leaders to help the country heal and rebuild following decades of violence. The pope urged faith leaders to affirm that violence and extremism are "betrayals of religion" and that hatred of others is the "greatest blasphemy."
Francis visited churches that were desecrated and destroyed by ISIS on Sunday, urging Iraqi Christians not to lose hope and not to seek vengeance over their suffering.
In Mass at Irbil later that day, Francis told the crowd that although "the temptation is to react … painful experiences with human power, human wisdom," the path of Jesus was to serve, to heal, to love and to offer his life for others.
Community life — living, praying, celebrating, sharing meals, or simply gathering together — is a powerful draw to the religious vocation (cited alongside spirituality, charism and mission). Fellow sisters become one's immediate family and support system. For most congregations, eremitical life notwithstanding, community life is integral to religious life.
A robust sense of community, once a constant, is now a luxury, if not a health risk. That's left sisters who live alone or are otherwise removed from their congregations, spending the year finding new outlets for deeper connection.
Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Patricia Soltesz, 78, also used to have that steady sense of community in her apartment building, but the pandemic has put an end to their regular parties and interactions, too — "another form of my community that I'm missing," she said. "I've felt lonely and isolated."
- You can see all of Global Sisters Report's coverage of one year into the COVID-19 pandemic here.
- NCR political columnist Michael Sean Winters looks
at the reasoning behind the U.S. bishops' conference statement on the
Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, which urged the faithful to
avoid due to concerns about its connection with "abortion-derived cell
- Religious women working in Brazil's Amazonas state have been a driving force of support, helping the population cope with the devastation of COVID-19 in the region. Yet they have faced their own anguishes.