Media CenterCRS Welcomes Pope Francis' Visit to Iraq as a Sign of Hope in a Time of Crisis

Photo by Daniel Etter for Catholic Relief Services

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Brittany Wichtendahl
Catholic Relief Services
[email protected]
(757) 748-5003

ERBIL, IRAQ, March 2, 2021 – Catholic Relief Services (CRS), welcomes Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq as a sign of hope and solidarity for a country mired in challenges following the ISIS invasion, which wrought massive damage to infrastructure and shattered trust between communities.

The pope is set to visit Iraq March 5-8. While there, he hopes to advance his “human fraternity” agenda, including during an interreligious meeting at Ur, the birthplace of Abraham. He will be the first pope in history to visit Iraq. His visit comes at a tumultuous time. More than a million Iraqis are internally displaced, unable to move back to their communities, while nearly 5 million returnees are in need of humanitarian support. An economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic have added to these challenges.

CRS, the international aid agency of the U.S. Catholic Church, has worked in Iraq for decades, partnering with the local Church on all its projects, mainly Caritas Iraq and the Chaldean Archdiocese of Erbil. Starting in 2014, CRS assisted Iraqis as they fled ISIS by providing shelter, education, and other types of humanitarian aid. More recently, CRS has been assisting Iraqi returnees.  

“In Iraq we have a saying: ‘people for people,’” said Hassan Amer, an Iraqi program manager for CRS. “Regardless of their religion, people must be for people. They must support and stand up for others. The pope’s visit underlines this message for Iraqi communities.”

While Iraq is rich in cultural and religious diversity, it’s also been plagued by sectarian strife. As a consequence of this, Christians and other religious groups – most prominently the Yezidis – have greatly suffered in the last decades, especially with the rise of ISIS.

Human fraternity and social friendship are at the heart of Pope Francis’ third encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, published last year. In his letter, the Holy Father writes that “each of us can learn something from others,” and that a journey of peace among religions is possible.

“This visit from the pope is all about reminding people that we must work together. We must bridge our divides rather than letting them tear us apart,” said Davide Bernocchi, CRS’ country representative for Iraq. “Every day at CRS we work toward Pope Francis’ vision of a united, peaceful Iraq.”

Since the start of the ISIS invasion, CRS has supported more than 350,000 Iraqis via various humanitarian and development programming. This includes a social cohesion project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which helps diverse communities rebuild trust and foster collaboration in areas of return.

“The people of Iraq are very much looking forward to this visit,” Amer said. “It will be a message of hope and solidarity for the Iraqi communities, and will have a positive impact on our future, especially for young people.”

A joint interreligious statement from faith-based organizations operating in Iraq can be found here.


Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. The agency alleviates suffering and provides assistance to people in need in more than 100 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality. CRS’ relief and development work is accomplished through programs of emergency response, HIV, health, agriculture, education, microfinance and peacebuilding. For more information, visit or and follow Catholic Relief Services on social media in English at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube; and in Spanish at: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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Public Relations Strategist

Brittany Wichtendahl &
Nikki Gamer
March 2, 2021

Brittany Wichtendahl is a public relations strategist for Catholic Relief Services, out of Baltimore. Drafting press releases for secular and Catholic news media, Brittany also crafts pitches to help publicize CRS's work. She writes op-eds for placement in national print publications, and monitors news outlets for stories related to CRS and CRS programming.

Brittany is a graduate of...More