In Iraq, the Pope intones a Prayer of the Sons and Daughters of Abraham. I was at an equally historic ceremony there during the Iraq war in 2003.6 March 2021
Joined by Muslims, Jews, representatives of different Christian Churches and other Iraqi religious minorities in the Iraqi city of Ur, Pope Francis prays for reconciliation, peace and the strength to rebuild the ravaged nation.
In a key part of his historic three-day trip to Iraq, the first ever by a Pope, Francis travelled south from Baghdad to the ancient city of Ur, famous in the Bible as Ur of the Chaldees, birthplace of Abraham, the founder of the three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
A simple, tent-like structure, with white drapes to protect participants from the sun, was set up next to Abraham’s house for an interreligious meeting there on Saturday. In the background stood the Great Ziggurat of Ur, the incredibly well-preserved remains of a four-thousand year-old Sumerian temple with its adjacent residential complex and palaces.
His meeting there was billed as the highpoint of his efforts to promote interreligious dialogue and fraternity in the Middle Eastern nation.
“This blessed place brings us back to our origins, to the sources of God’s work, to the birth of our religions,” the Pope said in his speech to representatives of the three Abrahamic religions.
In Ur, the birthplace of Abraham, the pope declared: “We seem to have returned home.” He was speaking at a venue set up next to what tradition holds was Abraham’s house, near the Great Ziggurat.
“It was here that Abraham heard God’s call; it was from here that he set out on a journey that would change history. We are the fruits of that call and that journey.”
The Pope went on to recall that in the Bible, God asked Abraham to count the stars and promised the patriarch that his descendants would be as numerous. “He saw us.”
As representatives of those descendants gathered in his birthplace, the Pope urged everyone to look up to heaven as we journey upon earth.
He said those same stars which our father Abraham looked upon still illumine our darkest nights “because they shine together.”
“Heaven thus imparts a message of unity,” said the Pope, “the Almighty above invites us never to separate ourselves from our neighbours. The otherness of God points us towards others, towards our brothers and sisters.”
The Holy Father also urged the faithful of all religions to preserve fraternity through love while lifting our eyes toward heaven and worshiping God.
“This is true religiosity: to worship God and to love our neighbour,” he said. “In today’s world, which often forgets or presents distorted images of the Most High, believers are called to bear witness to his goodness, to show his paternity through our fraternity.”
Clouds of terrorism, hatred
The Pope then recalled that “God is merciful” and that the greatest blasphemy is “to profane His name by hating our brothers and sisters.”
He said believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion, since violence and extremism are not born of a religious heart.
Lamenting the “dark clouds of terrorism, war, and violence” that have overshadowed Iraq, Pope Francis recalled that “all ethnic and religious communities have suffered.” He especially lifted his voice in defence of the Yazidi community, many of whom have been murdered, sold as slaves and forced to convert.
And the Pope prayed for those who have fled Iraq or been abducted, asking God that “they may soon return home.”
“Let us pray that freedom of conscience and freedom of religion will everywhere be recognized and respected; these are fundamental rights, because they make us free to contemplate the heaven for which we were created.”
Stars shining in darkness
Pope Francis went on to recall the destruction and death wreaked by the so-called Islamic State in the north of Iraq.
Despite the devastation, “some stars kept shining”, he said, pointing to the many examples of joint efforts to rebuild churches and mosques.
As these places of worship are rebuilt, he urged everyone to make pilgrimages to holy places, “for it is the most beautiful sign on earth of our yearning for heaven.”
He recalled that Abraham build altars to the Lord in various places, and prayed that all might find in the patriarch the inspiration to make our houses of worship “oases of peace and encounter for all.”
“By his fidelity to God, Abraham became a blessing for all peoples,” said the Pope. “May our presence here today, in his footsteps, be a sign of blessing and hope for Iraq, for the Middle East and for the whole world. Heaven has not grown weary of the earth: God loves every people, every one of his daughters and sons!”
Journey together on earth
The Pope then considered Abraham’s example of journeying in this world while keeping his eyes fixed on heaven.
“For Abraham, looking up to heaven, rather than being a distraction, was an incentive to journey on earth, to set out on a path that, through his descendants, would lead to every time and place.”
The patriarch’s journey involved sacrifices, said Pope Francis, yet reminds us that “we need one another.”
“On our own journey, we are called to leave behind those ties and attachments that, by keeping us enclosed in our own groups, prevent us from welcoming God’s boundless love and from seeing others as our brothers and sisters.”
Path of peace
Pope Francis said stargazing also pushes people along “the way of peace.”
The Covid-19 pandemic, he noted, has shown us that no one can ignore the suffering of others, especially the most vulnerable.
Peace, he added, requires alliances that do not pit us against them, but ones that unite us by overcoming division.
The Pope added that hatred is the true enemy. “Anyone with the courage to look at the stars, anyone who believes in God, has no enemies to fight,” he said. “He or she has only one enemy to face, an enemy that stands at the door of the heart and knocks to enter. That enemy is hatred.”
Steps toward fraternity
Finally, Pope Francis encouraged the faithful of the three Abrahamic religions to find inspiration in our common father, and turn their weapons into instruments of peace.
“It is up to us to remind the world that human life has value for what it is and not for what it has. That the lives of the unborn, the elderly, migrants and men and women, whatever the colour of their skin or their nationality, are always sacred and count as much as the lives of everyone else!”
Abraham’s journey, he concluded, was a “blessing of peace.” In our own day, our journey toward peace requires concrete steps of fraternity, working together to achieve something good.
“Brothers and sisters of different religions, here we find ourselves at home, and from here, together, we wish to commit ourselves to fulfilling God’s dream that the human family may become hospitable and welcoming to all his children; that looking up to the same heaven, it will journey in peace on the same earth.”
After the meeting, the Pope gathered Muslims, Jews, representatives of Iraq’s Christian Churches, and members of Iraqi religious minorities, including the Yazidis and Sabaeans, and together they asked the Lord for peace, reconciliation and the strength to rebuild the conflict-ravaged nation.
This is their prayer:
Almighty God, our Creator, you love our human family and every work of your hands:
As children of Abraham, Jews, Christians and Muslims, together with other believers and all persons of good will, we thank you for having given us Abraham, a distinguished son of this noble and beloved country, to be our common father in faith.
We thank you for his example as a man of faith, who obeyed you completely, left behind his family, his tribe and his native land, and set out for a land that he knew not.
We thank you too, for the example of courage, resilience, strength of spirit, generosity and hospitality set for us by our common father in faith.
We thank you in a special way for his heroic faith, shown by his readiness even to sacrifice his son in obedience to your command. We know that this was an extreme test, yet one from which he emerged victorious, since he trusted unreservedly in you, who are merciful and always offer the possibility of beginning anew.
We thank you because, in blessing our father Abraham, you made him a blessing for all peoples.
We ask you, the God of our father Abraham and our God, to grant us a strong faith, a faith that abounds in good works, a faith that opens our hearts to you and to all our brothers and sisters; and a boundless hope capable of discerning in every situation your fidelity to your promises.
Make each of us a witness of your loving care for all, particularly refugees and the displaced, widows and orphans, the poor and the infirm.
Open our hearts to mutual forgiveness and in this way make us instruments of reconciliation, builders of a more just and fraternal society.
Welcome into your abode of peace and light all those who have died, particularly the victims of violence and war.
Assist the authorities in the effort to seek and find the victims of kidnapping and in a special way to protect women and children.
Help us to care for the earth, our common home, which in your goodness and generosity you have given to all of us.
Guide our hands in the work of rebuilding this country, and grant us the strength needed to help those forced to leave behind their homes and lands, enabling them to return in security and dignity, and to embark upon a new, serene and prosperous life. Amen.