News – PH – Archbishop prepares for first papal visit to Iraq amid war scars


The Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul Najeeb Michaeel is pictured in the Mar Addai Church in Karamlesh, a town near the northern city of Mosul, where his Arch Patriarchate is based, on Jan. February 2021 From Mosul’s rubble streets to old churches in Karamlesh badly damaged by the Islamic State Group, Archbishop Najeeb Michaeel is preparing for the first papal visit to Iraq Photo by SAFIN HAMED / AFP

KARAMLESH, Iraq – From Mosul’s rubble streets to old churches in Karamlesh badly damaged by the Islamic state group, Archbishop Najeeb Michaeel is preparing for the first papal visit to Iraq

During the cleanup and rebuilding, the priest made sure that some war scars remained from the brutal IS campaign – a broken chalice, a smashed cross on a church bell tower – to remember the horrors that the Christians survived in the plains of Iraq at Nineveh

“We forgive without forgetting,” said Michaeel, the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, when visiting Karamlesh and other war-torn Christian villages in northern Iraq

“But the most important thing is that joy enter everyone’s hearts because this is not a simple formal visit – it is a spiritual moment,” he said with an infectious smile

Since learning that Pope Francis will visit Iraq in March, the clergyman has doubled his workload

“We are under enormous pressure: The Holy Father is not your average person – he is the representative of a state and of all Catholics worldwide,” Michaeel told AFP

Pope Francis previously shied away from using bulletproof vehicles in favor of a more open “Popemobile” in order to get to know people better However, this can be difficult to do in a country where security threats still exist

At 84, he may have difficulty struggling through the uneven sidewalks and rubble-filled alleys of Mosul.

“Everyone will want to get close to them, so it’s a big task,” said Michaeel. “All security guards will be on their toes”

He also coordinates with priests who translate masses between Latin, Arabic, Italian and a form of Aramaic, the ancient language of Jesus Christ that is still spoken in northern Iraq

It will also be a first for the Pope as he will preside over his very first liturgy in the Eastern Rite

There is no cathedral or stadium large enough to hold the number of worshipers expected to attend a mass in Nineveh province, but authorities are working on a possible open-air venue

Meanwhile, Michaeel is reviewing more than a dozen churches – many are from the 5th and 6 Century – that lie in ruins

One is Miskinta Church, which is still badly damaged, but the worst is Saint Simon Church, whose stone walls are collapsing and whose crypts are filled with rubble and trash

Michaeel, a native of Mosul, a melting pot of the diverse ethnic and religious communities in Iraq, worked as an oil engineer before responding to a calling to join the Church

He is best known for his 2014 work rescuing hundreds of rare manuscripts and scrolls by stacking them in his car as IS approached

“This land is a mosaic of a thousand colors and you can’t leave it shattered the way it is today,” he said

Michaeel told AFP that the “strong words, blessings and moral support of the Pope” would help bring the communities back together

This view is at the center of the Pope’s visit, especially when he holds interfaith prayers in the ancient city of Ur in southern Iraq

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This is where Abraham, the father of three religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – is said to have been born

The Pope’s prayers will bring together Christians and Muslims as well as believers from the ancient Yazidis and Sabaeans

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Iraq, Catholic Church, Archbishop, Pope Francis

News – PH – In the midst of war scars, the archbishop is preparing for the first papal visit to Iraq