Iraqi academic Saad Sallum: With his gaze on Abraham, the Pope comes for everyone

The apostolic journey is a source of "great support" for all minorities after the suffering of Daesh. But Francis is also coming for Sunnis and Shiites, who hope in a visit to Najaf and a meeting with al-Sistani. An event that also marks a new season for the country. The Chaldean patriarchy presents the official logo and slogan.

Jan 13, 2021

BAGHDAD: Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to Iraq is an "important event for all minorities", because he sends a "strong signal of great support" after the suffering " under Daesh [Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, IS]", says Saad Salloum, journalist and associate professor at the chair of political science at the prestigious al-Mustan?iriyya university in Baghdad, one of the oldest in the world, in an exclusive interview.

Co-founder of the Iraqi Council for Interfaith Dialogue and President of the Masarat Foundation, specializing in the protection of diversity, he holds numerous positions in organizations, associations and cultural institutions engaged in dialogue between different faiths. In 2018 he won the Stefanus Prize for religious freedom.

Author of several books and essays on diversity, one of which is dedicated to the "Christians in Iraq" for which he received an award from the Chaldean patriarchate, the scholar emphasizes "the visit to the historic city of Ur" above all for its "symbolic" value. It is the place where "the prophet Abraham was born", a figure "capable of uniting because he is the father of the prophets of all religions in Iraq".

Meanwhile, yesterday the Chaldean patriarchate unveiled the motto and official logo of the apostolic journey to Iraq, scheduled from March 5 to 8. The expression "You are all Brothers" is taken from a passage from the Gospel of Matthew (23.8) and the words, in Arabic, recall the title of the last encyclical, "Fratelli tutti". The logo, on a white background, bears the image of Pope Francis as he greets people, flanked by a stylized map of the nation, in which its two main waterways emerge: the Tigris and the Euphrates, enriched by a palm tree, a white dove (above the Iraqi and Vatican flags) and an olive branch, symbols of peace.

Salloum insists precisely on the issues of peace and brotherhood, in this interview with AsiaNews:

Professor, Pope Francis' visit to Iraq is a historic event for Christians. Does the same apply to other minorities?
Of course! This is an important event for all minorities, because it sends a strong signal of great support after the suffering we went through under Daesh. In particular, for the Yazidis, the Turkmen, the Shabak, the Christians themselves. [The jihadists] have also attacked Shia and Sunni Muslims, so the Pope's message goes to the entire Iraqi community. The visit to the historic city of Ur, in the south, where the prophet Abraham was born is of particular value and very symbolic. A simple but unique event, also capable of uniting because he is the father of the prophets of all religions in Iraq.

In the past, the pontiff has made numerous gestures with a view to dialogue with other faiths, especially Sunni Islam. Will this be the occasion for a change in relations with the Shiites?

I think that the prospect of a stop in Najaf would be very important, because it is the ' Shiite Vatican', a point of reference for millions of faithful from all over the Middle East and the Islamic world who look to [the great Ayatollah Ali] al-Sistani and Najaf as a model and example. I see several similarities between al-Sistani and the Pope in promoting peace, in the elevated dimension of spirituality. Many Iraqis, from different communities, respect al-Sistani and his speeches, which value diversity and support freedom of speech. Seeing Pope Francis walking those streets and crossing his humble abode, I think it would be a very strong message.

Could it be the beginning of a new era for the country?
I truly believe it is! This journey is really the sign of a new season, after Isis, a new society that has defeated Daesh and now has to face new challenges: economic, social, stability. I am thinking of a new era, especially after the popular protests [of October 2019] which we have witnessed and which have caused hundreds of victims, especially young people. A new social movement, a drive that perhaps represented what Iraqi reality demanded. A patriarchal spirit, where people can recognize themselves in an identity that is national. The change of government is one of the effects of these protests, I really think that the pope's visit could be a further sign of recognition for this new spirit, for this new era.

Are extremism, fundamentalism, violent and radical ideologies like that of ISIS still a current and real threat?
We can say that Isis was defeated in terms of the war, but its defeat within the hearts and minds of the people is another so important. The Pope can help spread love and coexistence between different realities, work to counter hate speech. He can enclose all the souls of the country under his ideal umbrella of peace, healing the wounds on the occasion of the visit to the Christian and Yazidi cities, in the Nineveh plain and in Sinjar. Not all of the people have returned to these areas; a stage of him can give new impetus to coexistence in the places that are the epicenter of their origin, after the terrible moments lived under Daesh.

What role can Christians and other minorities play for the future of Iraq?
Through dialogue and mutual relations between Christians and Muslims, as well as the Yazidis, the Sabeans can enhance the differences, bring out all those different aspects that characterize Iraq and which can also represent one of its strengths. Here we have a greater diversity than all the other nations of the Middle East, a sort of soft power that derives precisely from this diversity among the many minorities, developing our common patrimony on a religious and non-religious level.--Asia News

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