CRS Welcomes Pope Francis on Historic Visit to Iraq
With the pope bringing this message to Iraq, it shows that evil and violence will not have the last word.
Pope Francis has chosen to visit Iraq as his first trip since the COVID-19 pandemic began. It’s also a historic visit, the first time a pope has visited the country. Pope Francis will bring his message of human fraternity, encouraging interreligious cooperation and peace. His visit comes at a time when Iraq is struggling to recover from violence.
“There is a lot of excitement and anticipation among Iraqi Christians and Muslims around the pope’s trip ,” Davide Bernocchi, the CRS country representative in Iraq, said. “Many see this visit as a sign of respect and attention to a country that has suffered from a great deal of violence and instability.”
The theme of the trip is “You are all brothers.” It enforces the message Pope Francis issued in his latest encyclical, Fratellit Tutti. In his letter the pope encourages action on the part of the faithful to build solidarity and a more peaceful world.
“With the pope bringing this message to Iraq, it shows that evil and violence will not have the last word,” Bernocchi said.
Since 2014, Catholic Relief Services has helped more than 350,000 Iraqis affected by conflict. Work has included education, livelihoods, and shelter. CRS also supports religious leaders, communities and youth groups to work together to rebuild the trust damaged by years of violence.
“With this project, young people really feel like they are given the chance to give back to their communities and be part of a better future,” Hassan Amer, a project officer for CRS in Iraq, said.
For young people who have not yet completed their education, getting back to the classroom is a priority. In 2014, when the Islamic State took control of the small village of Til Yara, 10 miles northeast of Mosul, almost everyone fled. Families in Til Yara are Shabak, a minority ethnic group that was targeted by IS for their religious beliefs and practices. When it was safe to return, residents found their village severely damaged. Til Yara Primary School, which was used by the Islamic State as a prison during their occupation, was not spared.
“The damage reached every corner of the school,” said Head Teacher Mr. Mohammed. Windows were broken and doors were removed. Classrooms were set on fire.
Despite the damage, Mr. Mohammed knew it was vital for the recovery of the community that school reopen as quickly as possible. CRS repaired some of the damage, resurfaced the play yard and worked with the school to strengthen the Parent and Teacher Association.
“I can’t thank CRS enough for all that they’ve provided the school,” says Mr. Mohammed. Thanks to them, we’re not only providing education to children, we’re building a well-educated generation.”