A member of the Iraqi security forces stands guard in the streets of the northern city of Mosul, in preparation for the visit of Pope Francis, on March 7, 2021. Pope Francis, on his historic Iraq tour, visits today Christian communities that endured the brutality of the Islamic State group until the jihadists' "caliphate" was defeated three years ago. (Vincenzo PINTO / AFP)
Traveling to the birthplace of Abraham, Pope Francis urged believers to prove their faith in the one God and father of all by accepting one another as brothers and sisters.From a stage set on a dusty hill overlooking the archaeological dig at Ur, Abraham's birthplace about 10 miles from modern-day Nasiriyah, the pope called on representatives of the country's religious communities to denounce all violence committed in God's name and to work together to rebuild their country."From this place, where faith was born, from the land of our father Abraham, let us affirm that God is merciful and that the greatest blasphemy is to profane his name by hating our brothers and sisters," the pope told the representatives. "Hostility, extremism and violence are not born of a religious heart: they are betrayals of religion," he insisted.Pope Francis arrived in Ur after a 45-minute early morning meeting in Najaf with 90-year-old Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, one of Shiite Islam's most authoritative figures.At the large interreligious meeting later, with the Ziggurat of Ur, a partially reconstructed Bronze-Age pagan temple, visible in the haze, Pope Francis insisted that when Jews, Christians and Muslims make a pilgrimage to Abraham's birthplace, they are going home, back to the place that reminds them they are brothers and sisters.Representatives of Iraqi's Shiite Muslim majority, its Sunni Muslim community, Christians, Yazidis and Mandaeans, a group that claims to be older than Christianity and reveres St. John the Baptist, joined Pope Francis at Ur.Farmon Kakay, a member of a delegation from Iraq's small Kaka'i community, a pre-Islamic religion and ethnic group related to the Yazidis, told Catholic News Service, "To see His Holiness is big news for me. We want the pope to take a message to the government to respect us."Faiza Foad, a Zoroastrian from Kirkuk, had a similar hope that Pope Francis' visit would move the government and Iraqi society as a whole to a greater recognition of religious freedom for all.Wearing a white dress trimmed in gold and decorated with sequins, Foad told CNS that even though her religion is not an "Abrahamic faith," participating in the meeting was a sign that all people are members of the one human family.