Hostility, extremism and violence are betrayals of religion says Francis

Pope Francis says his four-day visit to Iraq was a “pilgrimage of peace.”

The first Catholic pope to visit Iraq, Francis’s history-making four-day trip began in Baghdad last Friday.

His key message stressed peace in Iraq where wars, terrorism and sectarian conflicts have plagued it over several decades.

“May there be an end to acts of violence and extremism, factions and intolerance!” Francis said in his first official speech.

Addressing Iraqi President Barham Salih, government leaders and diplomats at the Presidential Palace, he called for room to be made for all citizens wanting to help build up Iraq.

This could happen “through dialogue and through frank, sincere and constructive discussion,” he said.

“I come as a penitent, asking forgiveness of heaven and my brothers and sisters for so much destruction and cruelty.

“I come as a pilgrim of peace in the name of Christ, the Prince of Peace. How much we have prayed in these years for peace in Iraq.”

Francis also visited one of Shia Islam’s most respected religious figures.

Receiving the pope at his home in the holy city of Najaf, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (pictured) said Christians should be able to live in peace and security like all other Iraqis.

The meeting was seen as a highly symbolic moment in the Pope’s visit, which is his first international trip since the start of the coronavirus pandemic more than a year ago.

During another scheduled visit – this time speaking at an inter-faith prayer service, Francis told those present: Hostility, extremism and violence are “betrayals of religion.”

Religion “must be at the service of peace and fraternity,” he said on another occasion.

“Religion, by its very nature, must be at the service of peace and fraternity.”

Hence, the name of God cannot be used “to justify acts of murder, exile, terrorism and oppression,” he explained.

Society needs to be based on fraternal union, solidarity and concrete acts of care and service to the vulnerable and those most in need.

“Fraternal coexistence calls for patient and honest dialogue, protected by justice and by respect for law,” he said.

“Only if we learn to look beyond our differences and see each other as members of the same human family will we be able to begin an effective process of rebuilding and leave to future generations a better, more just and more humane world,” he said.

Francis had a special message about Iraq’s large youth population during his “pilgrimage of peace”.

They are an “inestimable treasure for the future.

“Young people are your treasure,” he told Christian spiritual leaders.

“They need you to care for them, to nurture their dreams, to accompany their growth and to foster their hope.” Noting that their patience has already been sorely tried by the conflicts of recent years.

“It is up to us to cultivate their growth in goodness and to nurture them with hope.”


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