The Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples Talks about His Experience in Iraq, First as Nuncio and then as Papal Envoy
(Zenit) Rome, July 29, 2015 “It is Pope Francis’ intention to go to Iraq and I believe, without a doubt, he will do so, although I cannot foresee the opportune moment now because everyone understands that this is still a very problematic time for the country,” said Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, who on the occasion of the publication of his book “The Church in Iraq” (published by the Libreria Editrice Vaticana) reviewed his recent missions in the country, on behalf of the Holy Father.
Cardinal Filoni confirmed that the ethnic and religious fragmentation is causing profound divisions in the country. He reminded that the southern area is Shi’ite and, therefore, “it cannot be thought that Iran will give up its influence in these lands.” According to the Cardinal, “it’s as if the Jews gave up Jerusalem or Catholics Rome. What is more, there are mixed Sunni and Shi’ite areas. In the Western part instead, we find ancient Sunni tribes and in the East and the North the presence of Kurds but also of Christians. It is a very composite reality and in this mosaic if they don’t come to an agreement with each other there will never be peace, which is the fundamental condition for the country’s development.”
As Apostolic Nuncio in Iraq from 2001 to 2006, Cardinal Filoni recalls having stayed in the country also during the bombings of the second Gulf War. “I must say that both in the first as well as the second Gulf War, the Nuncios stayed at their post and this gave enormous credibility to the role of the Church. The Iraqi people saw that the Catholic community, despite its being small and a minority, did not show contradictory behavior with a West that could be defined as Christian and a Middle East that instead is Muslim.”
It was essentially the aid offered by the Church in those moments. “We made all the churches available, as well as the Seminaries, which were open in the evening and the people came with mattresses and spent the night because of the fear of bombings,” he said. All the places of worship were open and housed both Christians and Muslims. The small Catholic welfare institutions themselves — I am thinking of the small Saint Raphael’s Hospital — always stayed open. They did not have the possibility to cure the wounds, but were besieged especially by pregnant women.”