Mara Di Fuccia
March 5th, 2021 will be remembered as one of the dates that made history in interreligious dialogue and it will be thanks to the pilgrimage of Pope Francis to Iraq and his meeting with the great Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, point of reference for Shiite Islam, to launch together a message that combines religious values and the duty of coexistence between people of different religions.
Despite the risks of the pandemic, which the world has been facing daily for just over a year, Francis has not given up on bringing his message of peace and brotherhood to the land of Shiite Islam, a land resigned for years to coexist with violence and the blood of terrorism.
Landed in Baghdad, the Pope was welcomed by President Barham Ahmed Salih Qassim and, in front of the political and civil authorities, he gave his first speech pointed on the importance of being citizens even before being faithful and reaffirming the principles of equality between all the ethnic, social and religious components in the country.
“In this sense, it is essential to ensure the participation of all political, social and religious groups and to guarantee the fundamental rights of all citizens. Nobody is considered a second-class citizen. I encourage the steps taken so far on this path and I hope that they will strengthen serenity and harmony” said Francis.
It is precisely by going in this direction that Ayatollah Al-Sistani, after the meeting in Najaf with the Pope that lasted forty-five minutes, declared his commitment to guaranteeing Christian citizens all their constitutional rights to live, like all Iraqis, in peace and security.
After meeting one of the highest authorities of Shiite Islam, Francis made a stop in the Plain of Ur, land of Abraham, father of monotheism. “When terrorism invaded the north of this beloved country, it wantonly destroyed part of its magnificent religious heritage, including the churches, monasteries and places of worship of various communities. Yet, even at that dark time, some stars kept shining. I think of the young Muslim volunteers of Mosul, who helped to repair churches and monasteries, building fraternal friendships on the rubble of hatred, and those Christians and Muslims who today are restoring mosques and churches together” the Holy Father underlined in his speech of peace and hope.
On the other hand, Pope Francis is not new to meetings with representatives of the Islamic world. Last February 4th, on the eighth centenary of the meeting between St. Francis of Assisi and the sultan al-Malik al-Kāmil, he visited Abu Dhabi. The choice of the capital of the United Arab Emirates was not accidental: the city has always represented the most welcoming place in the Arabia for all religions other than Islam. On that occasion, the Pope made appreciations for the country, which tolerates and guarantees freedom of worship, facing hatred and extremism.
After being welcomed into an honour room by the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Pope greeted the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayyib to discuss about cooperation and dialogue, with a focus on the creation of brotherhood channels capable of breaking down separation barriers. The key point of that trip was the private meeting with members of the Muslim Council of Elders in the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, during which Bergoglio signed a joint document on human fraternity with the largest Sunni theological university, launching an appeal to build the future together and denouncing the lack of human rights, first of all freedom of religion. The Imam, instead, insisted a lot on the verses from the Koran that present Christians as good believers.
In continuity with this trip, in March 2019, the Pope then decided to visit Morocco, following in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II, who visited it in 1985. This was an occasion for Francis to reiterate the need to give a new impulse to the construction of a more united world “in this time in which there is a risk of differences and mutual misrecognition of the reasons for rivalry and disintegration”. Referring, then, to religious fanaticism and fundamentalism, the Holy Father praised the Mohammed VI Institute for imams, preachers and preachers, wanted by King Mohammed VI in order to provide adequate and healthy training against all forms of extremism.
In a difficult historical period like this, in which the Covid-19 pandemic is rampant, previously marked by the hatred of racism and religious extremism, Pope Francis’s message of peace has to invite us to reflect on the need for change. Change that must bring young people back to believe in the old values of altruism and humanity.