Pope Francis in Iraq: Was the Papal Trip Worth the Risk?

On EWTN News In Depth, host Montse Alvarado examines the Holy Father’s bold move to bring hope to a dark and forgotten place.

Pope Francis blesses Marian statue destroyed by ISIS in Erbil on March 7, 2021.
Pope Francis blesses Marian statue destroyed by ISIS in Erbil on March 7, 2021. (photo: Vatican Media)

On the papal plane during his return flight from Iraq last week, Pope Francis explained why his visit to the war-torn country was worth the health and safety risks. EWTN News In Depth host Montse Alvarado and her team examined on the March 12 episode what was at stake during the pope’s first trip outside of Italy since the global pandemic began last year. Then an expert panel discussed what the lasting effects of the visit might be. 

Key Take-Aways: 

  • The pope responds to critics, when a reporter on the papal flight ask during the inflight press conference (transcript here) whether a closing Mass attended by 10,000 Iraqi people posed a health safety risk. Pope Francis explained his long discernment on the risks and the rewards. Watch his response. 
  • Powerful video footage captures the pope limping down a dilapidated alleyway outside the home of the Grand Ayatollah, spiritual leader of the Shia majority in Iraq, as the 84-year-old Francis risks his own health to advocate for the peace and protection of battered Christians in the Middle East. 
  • A behind-the-scenes interview with Archbishop Bashar Warda, the archbishop of Erbil, Iraq, who has faced death threats and endured the ISIS genocide, gives an insider’s look to why the trip mattered to Iraqis. The archbishop, who was part of the pope’s entourage, explained the importance of Francis’ “physical approach” to interreligious dialogue and the impact of his in-person messages on high-level Iraqi politicians.

Watch the Interview:

The Wrap from the Experts: Alvarado led the discussion with Catholic policy analysts about the spiritual and political ramifications of the pope’s historic trip. Here’s the wrap:

From Kathryn Lopez (Senior Fellow, National ReviewInstitute):

  • Papal visit was “nothing short of a miracle” given coronavirus-related obstacles
  • Francis courageously comforted forgotten Christians in a hostile warzone
  • The pope modeled his repeated request that Catholics “go to the peripheries” 

From Ambassador Alberto Fernandez (Vice President, Middle East Media Research Institute): 

  • Because Christians are a small minority in Iraq, an important factor in the trip was the reception by non-Christian political factions within Iraq.
  • Opposing extremists in the ISIS militia and the pro-Iranian Shia militia criticized the Catholic leader’s visit 
  • Meanwhile, Iraqi Muslims reacted positively, joking that politicians should invite Francis back so that more roads would get paved (in reference to infrastructure and security improvements made in preparation for the papal visit)

From Matthew Bunson (EWTN Washington Bureau Chief):

  • Francis’ visit to the birthplace of Abraham marked a “coming home” to the ancient roots of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
  • Twenty years after his predecessor John Paul II planned a similar trip — cancelled due to regional instability during the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein — Pope Francis completed the long-desired pilgrimage of peace.

Also on EWTN News In Depth

Reporters take a closer look at Catholic concerns, including those of Cardinal Timothy Dolan (watch his March 5 interview), over The Equality Act.

Watch the Segment:

What’s Happening: The U.S. Congress is considering passage of the Equality Act, which would expand federal discrimination laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to include non-biological definitions of sexual orientation and gender identity. The law, if passed, could theoretically require Catholic hospitals and pediatricians to provide cross-sex hormones that violate their consciences, for example. 

Why It Matters: Discrimination Redefined. “According to the Equality Act, gender is defined by subjective beliefs … So any Catholic school that teaches their children that God made them male and female, well that now becomes bigotry, that now becomes discrimination.” — Melissa Moschella (Associate Professor of Philosophy, Catholic University of America)

Under-Resourced Churches Defenseless. “This has implications for the black church… most black faith-based institutions are extremely tight strapped, where we don't have the kind of resources that it would take to defend ourselves.” — Jackie Rivers (Executive Director of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies)

Minorities Stripped of Federal Aid. “[Christian colleges and universities] that refuse to bend to the definition of the human person …may be at risk of losing federal funding…What this will do is it will create a disproportionate damage to minority groups who receive federal aid.” — Matthew Bunson (EWTN Washington Bureau Chief)

And More on the March 12 Episode:

A Nun in Myanmar Begs to be Martyred. EWTN News In-Depth shows footage of the 45-year-old sister’s bravery as she asks military forces to shoot her instead of demonstrators during a pro-democracy protest.

Your Faith: Meet Darren, an HVAC Repairman. EWTN News Nightly's Mark Irons interviews a Catholic man who gives his customers a reminder that it’s Jesus who fixes their problems—something he learned himself during bouts of extreme anxiety. 

Watch the full show: