A Pope’s Visit Amidst the Ruins Charles Elias Chartouni/March 07/2021 شارل الياس شرتوني: زيارة قداسة البابا فرنسيس وسط الدمار والأنقاض
“Fraternity is more durable than fratricide, hope is more powerful than hatred, peace more powerful than war.This conviction speaks with greater eloquence than the passing voices of hatred and violence, and it cannot be silenced by the blood spilled by those who pervert the name of God to pursue paths of destruction.” Pope Francis, speech, Mosul, March 7 2021.
Contending observers wonder about the Pope’s visit to Iraq, its purview, impact on the future of Iraq and its reverberations on peace chances across the Middle East. We have to realize, at first, that Pope Francis is not an actor in the ongoing political and conflict theatrics and not expecting to be one, he positions himself from a different angle as a dramatis personae in a human tragedy taking place in a region and a place, where not only the future of native Christian Churches and communities is at stake, but the prospects of peace in the whole Middle Eastern ambit are under the mercy of a monumental unraveling which destroyed the centennial interstate system, and left the whole region at lurch. The Vatican being a moral authority and the federating structure around which operate the various Catholic Churches worldwide, its old and ubiquitous diplomacy have proven to be highly instrumental mediating conflicts throughout the world and bringing parties of conflict around negotiating tables. The Pope’s visit was symbolically successful breaking up Iraq’s isolation on the international scene, helping the Iraqis claim their independent stature away from Iranian hegemony, inter-Islamic power rivalries, assert their ethno-religious and cultural pluralism and the need to manage it on the very basis of an egalitarian civic credo and democratic institutions embodied by its nascent federal system, and deal with the bloody past through the ethics of a transitional justice system that helps heal and repair the injustices of the immediate and distant past. The Pope’s “ministry of reconciliation” (Paul, Corinthians 2/ 5:11-21) was quite effective assisting Iraqi leaderships( Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni) in their endeavors to reaffirm their national sovereignty, Pluralism, and equidistance away from actual and impending imperial inroads, and bringing into light the dramatic conditions of the ethno-religious minorities( Yezidi, Kakai, Sabean….), their long historical track of moral degradation and the late annihilation campaigns engineered by the late ISIS. The Kurdish and Shiite leaderships ( represented by President B. Saleh, PM. Moustapha al Khadimi, and Kurdistan PM. M. Barzani ) have deftly maneuvered to organize the Pope’s visit, emphasize their operational autonomy towards Iran’s heavy sway on Iraqi Politics, promote their pro-Western intellectual and political proclivities, and circumscribe the scope of the politics of fear.
This visit is a diplomatic feat carefully crafted, organized and achieved on the very background of a ramshackle republic which has stumbled over the last three decades between regional wars, endemic instability, internecine civil wars, different interludes of terror reign under the Iranian piloted Shiite terror squads, the savagery of ISIS, and the plundering of Iraqi resources by the rising Shiite oligarchs and their clientelist networks under Nuri al Maliki. Moreover, the meeting with grand Ayatollah al Sistani is quite indicative of the Holy See elective affinity with the spiritual and quietist tradition of Shiism, in contradistinction with the political totalitarianism and violence proned khomeynism and the ruling jurist governance “invented tradition”.
Otherwise, the apostolic nature of the visit was meant to help redress the imbalances driven by waves of massive Christian migration which started in the thirties of the last century (featured by the installation of the Assyrian Patriarchate in the US, and the cascading departures after the first and second Gulf wars), heal the wounds of the Islamic State interlude, consolidate the demographic, socio-economic, political and educational restructuring platforms and the various Church ministries of the Catholic and Christian denominations bound to manage their new plight, between the minority Church status in their native homeland, and the widely scattered diasporas throughout the five continents.
The Iraqi configuration compares largely with the Lebanese one, with one major difference, Lebanese Christianity is an independent actor whose moral and operational autonomy is strong enough to challenge the political arrogance of destructive Iranian and Sunni-Islamist power politics, their eroding legitimacy and derelict geopolitical platforms. Western democracies are definitely invited to draw inspiration from the Vatican’s diplomacy and step once again into the Middle Eastern whirlwind to contain the destructive Iranian, Turkish and Russian politics, bury the ISIS legacy and reset the political dynamics on a constructive course of conflict resolution, integrated development, and alternative political and civic cultures that are deeply entrenched in the yearnings of regional civil societies which have experienced the excruciating travails of political and social authoritarianism, Islamic totalitarianism and pervasive instability. Pope Francis has set the course, Western democracies have to relay at this pinnacle moment.