Press Conference with Pope Francis on the Return Flight to Rome from Iraq
8 March 2021
Good day, Your Holiness. Good day to all of you. Thank you for this extraordinary journey that touched the history of this country, many places and also the heart of many Iraqis and so many who were able to follow these days, also thanks to the work of our journalist colleagues. Here we also have Msgr Dieudonné Datonou, who worked to bring about this journey … “the new sheriff”! We thank him for his work, realizing that he was able to count on the experience of the Secretary of State’s travel office and also on the experience of so many sectors of the Holy See involved in the organization of the journey. And now, if you wish, a word of greeting and then a few questions from the journalists regarding these days.
First of all, thank you for your work and your company … and for your exhaustion!
Today is Women’s Day: my compliments to the women. Women’s day…. We used to say: why is there no celebration of men…? In the meeting with the wife of the President [of the Republic of Iraq], I said: “Because we men are always celebrating!” We need a celebration of women. The President’s wife spoke well of women; she told me beautiful things today: the strength that women have in carrying on life, history, family… so many things.
Then, my congratulations to everyone!
Thirdly, today is the birthday of the COPE journalist, not the other day! Best wishes! We will have to celebrate it…. we will see how…. The floor is now yours.
The first question, Holy Father, comes precisely from the Arab world, from Imad Atrach, a journalist for Sky News Arabia.
Imad Abdul Karim Atrach (Sky News Arabia):
Your Holiness, two years ago in Abu Dhabi there was the meeting with Imam al-Tayyeb of al-Azhar and the signing of the Document on Human Fraternity. Three days ago you met with Al-Sistani: can something similar be considered with the Shiite sect of Islam? Then a second thing: Lebanon. Saint John Paul II said it is more than a country: it is a message. Sadly, as a Lebanese, I can tell you that this message is disappearing. Can we envisage a future, imminent visit to Lebanon? Thank you.
The Abu Dhabi document of 4 February  was prepared with the Grand Imam in secrecy, over six months, praying, reflecting, correcting the text. It was, I will say – it is somewhat presumptuous, take it as a presumption – a first step toward what you are asking me. We could say that this [with Al-Sistani] would be the second. And there will be others. The path of fraternity is important. Then, as to the two documents: that of Abu Dhabi left me with a strong sense of the need for fraternity, and [the Encyclical] Fratelli Tutti resulted. Both documents should be studied because they go in the same direction, they seek … fraternity. Ayatollah Al-Sistani said something that I am trying to remember properly: men are either brothers through religion or equal through creation. Fraternity is equality, but equality is the bottom line. I think that it is also a cultural process. We Christians can think of the Thirty Years War, about the Eve of Saint Bartholomew, for example. We think of this, and how our mentality has changed. Because our faith makes us realize that this is what the revelation of Jesus is, love and charity lead us to this. But how many centuries it took to accomplish it!
This is something important, human fraternity – how as men and women we are all brothers and sisters – and we need to make progress with the other religions. The Second Vatican Council took a major step with this; then the institutions, the Council for Christian Unity and the Council for Interreligious Dialogue; hence Cardinal Ayuso is with us today. You are human; you are a child of God; you are my brother or sister, full stop. This would be the biggest step to take and frequently we have to risk taking it. You know that there are criticisms in this regard: that the Pope is not courageous; he is reckless, acting against Catholic doctrine, that he is one step from heresy…. There are risks. But these decisions are always made in prayer, in dialogue, asking advice, in reflection. They are not a whim, and they follow in the line of what the Council taught. This is my answer to your first question.
The second: Lebanon is a message. Lebanon is suffering. Lebanon is about more than maintaining an equilibrium. It has the weakness of differences, some of which are still not reconciled. But it has the strength of great reconciled people, like the strength of cedars. Patriarch Raï had asked me to make a stop in Beirut on this journey, but it seemed too little to me. A crumb in the face of a problem, a country that suffers as Lebanon does. I wrote him a letter. I promised to make a journey. But at this time Lebanon is in crisis, but in crisis – here I wish not to offend – in a crisis of life. Lebanon is very generous, in welcoming refugees…. This is a second journey.
Thank you, Your Holiness. The second question comes from Johannes Neudecker, from the German news agency, DPA:
Johannes Claus Neudecker (German news agency, DPA):
Thank you, Holy Father. My question is also on the meeting with Al-Sistani. To what extent was the meeting with Al-Sistani also a message to Iran’s religious leaders?
I think it was a universal message. I felt the duty, on this pilgrimage of faith and penance, to go to find a great and wise man, a man of God. And we see this just by listening to him. As for messages, I would say: the message is for everyone; it is a message for everyone. He is a person who has that wisdom… and also prudence. He said to me: “For ten years” – I think he said it this way – “I have not received people who come to visit me with other aims, political and cultural, no. Only religious”. And he was very respectful, very respectful in the meeting, and I felt honored. Even in his greeting: he never stands up, and he stood up, to greet me, twice. He is a humble and wise man. This meeting did me good. It is a light. These wise men are everywhere, because the wisdom of God has been spread throughout the world. The same thing is true with the saints, not only those who are canonized, but the everyday saints, those whom I call “the saints next door”, saints – both men and women – who live their faith, whatever it may be, with consistency, who live human values with consistency, fraternity with consistency. I think we have to discover these people, to make them known, because there are so many of them… When there are scandals, also in the Church, so many of them and this does not help…. Then let us make known all those people who are seeking the path of fraternity, the saints next door; we will find members of our family, certainly: some grandfathers, some grandmothers…. Certainly!
Sylwia Wysocka (PAP – Polska Agencja Prasowa):
Your Holiness, over these twelve very difficult months your own activity has been very limited. Yesterday you had the first direct and very close contact with people in Qaraqosh. How did it feel?
You began by asking: what did I encounter in Iraq, in Qaraqosh…? I had not imagined the ruins of Mosul, of Qaraqosh; I had not imagined, truly…. Yes, I had seen pictures, I had read the book, but I was struck, it was striking. And then, what touched me the most is the testimony of a mother in Qaraqosh. The testimony was given by a priest who truly knows poverty, service and penance, and by a woman who lost her son in the first Daesh bombings. She said one word: forgiveness. I was moved. A mother who says: I forgive and I ask forgiveness for them. I was reminded of my journey to Colombia, of that encounter at Villavicencio, where so many people, women especially, mothers and wives, recounted their experience of the murder of their sons and their husbands and said: “I forgive”. But we have forgotten this word; we are experts at insulting; we are great at condemning, myself before anyone; we know this well. But to forgive! To forgive enemies: this is pure Gospel. That is what struck me most in Qaraqosh.