Reflections on the Visit of Pope Francis to Iraq

As we have reported, for the last two years, the Caux Round Table has facilitated a small study group seeking to learn more about covenants given to Christian communities by the Prophet Muhammad.  I would like to note in the context of our initiative the very auspicious visit of Pope Francis to Iraq last weekend.

I had hoped that some comment would be made during this remarkable, historic visit, holding up the Prophet’s covenants as a model for mutual respect and reciprocal appreciation.  While this did not transpire, very much in the spirit of the covenants, the Grand Ayatollah Sistani said, “You are part of us and we are part of you.”

His transcendent vision was written on public posters like this:


In the days leading up to the Pope’s visit, I was in contact with colleagues in our study network close to the Pope and others in contact with the close associates of the Ayatollah.  It is my sense from the tenor of my phone conversations and emails with them that our report on the covenants, which was shared with both leaders, quite possibly did help to reduce anxieties by providing an historical precedent for mutuality between Muslims and Christians and so contributed to confident expectations of good results from the visit and so to the goodwill and collegiality animating the historic meeting of these two spiritual leaders.

One of the organizers told me afterwards that the meeting resulted in a “new mentality and culture.”

I was particularly moved by the Pope’s decision to visit Ur – the birthplace of Abraham, the place from which he set forth on his life-long pilgrimage as inspired by God.  Personally, reminding us of the fidelity of Abraham, the Pope, with his presence there, brought into one heritage the three Abrahamic faiths, similar to the way of the Prophet Muhammad who, in his covenants, brought together, in mutual consort, both Christians and Muslims.

I was reflecting a day or so ago that could it be possible that a short visit by one man, a religious leader, to Iraq has done more to put out the fires of intolerance and violence than nearly two decades of American efforts to “win the war on terror” and “pacify” Iraq?

Then, I recalled the cynical quip of Stalin as reported by President Harry Truman (there are other versions as to when Stalin made his observation):

“I remember at Potsdam we got to discussing a matter in Eastern Poland and it was remarked by the Prime Minister of Great Britain that the Pope would not be happy over that arrangement of that Catholic end of Poland. And the Generalissimo, the Prime Minister of Russia, leaned on the table and he pulled his mustache like that (gesturing) and looked over at Mr. Churchill and said: ‘”Mr. Churchill, Mr. Prime Minister, how many divisions did you say the Pope had?’”