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Op-Ed: Why Pope Francis should visit Kurdistan region

Kurdish writer Chiman Salih explains why Pope Francis should make history and visit the Kurdistan region. According to her, the Christians in the region are considering seeking refuge in other countries, which would destroy the region’s unique ethnic and religious diversity. However, a visit by Pope Francis will most likely convince most of them to return to their homes.
Pope Francis Photo Credit: EPA

The remaining displaced Christians living in the refugee camps and inside the cities of the Kurdistan Region, who are mostly from Mosul and Nineveh plains, are hoping to see Pope Francis on a visit to the region.

KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) officials have invited the Pope on numerous occasions for several reasons. Not only would his arrival bring honor to the region, but the Christians would regard his visit as a sign that they should not leave their homeland. The Christians in the region have been contemplating whether they should return to their homes, which were most likely ruined by ISIS, or seek refuge in another country. Their decision on this issue could save the history of the region or ruin it in terms of the ethnic and religious diversity, which has been the identity of Mesopotamia since the early time of history.

Statistics show that the Christian population was 1.5 million in 2003. However, the current number is only around 300,000. This is surprising given that the Christians are the most ancient population of Mesopotamia's communities. Moral support in this time is very important to save the diversity in the region, which is the only glimmer of hope to give another chance to democracy and the creation of an anti-terrorism zone in the Middle East. The diversity in this land was supposed to be considered an important issue by USA and Western powers because it had the potential to play a pivotal role in their foreign policy strategies.

I concluded from the speeches delivered by Christian leaders that a visit by the Pope will put an end to their debate about whether they should return to their homes that were liberated from ISIS or seek refuge. It appears that seeing the Pope up close will prompt most of them to decide to stay in their homeland.

Worldwide religious authorities have behaved inconsistently throughout history in regard to the people in the region. The Kurds have experienced a number of genocides and mass killings committed by regimes and different groups. However, these horrendous acts were rejected by the Muslim religious authorities. For example, the grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar was expected to visit the Kurdistan region but he never came.

Pope Francis could transcend all the routine arguments that have been made previously by the religious authorities as pretexts. The pope should be the one to make history. As I learned from Mr. Khalid Alber Essa, the person in charge of the Christian affairs in the KRG, high-level Vatican official Cardinal Pietro Parolin was invited by Archbishop Bashar Warda to visit the Kurdistan Region and he accepted the invitation. Alber Essa hopes this step could pave the way to the Pope's visit.

Despite the KRG’s frequent invitations to the Pope, the potential visit wouldn't happen in the near future due to the protocols that state that he would need to visit Baghdad first and the Vatican is not expected to just simply allow him to go to the capital due to serious security issues.

When people share humanitarian senses, they can approach and protect each other no matter what religion they believe in and the positive impacts could extend to all. Two years ago, I was very hesitant about whether I should support the retainment or abolishment of death penalty. I knew that there are serious crimes and that the criminals who commit them should be punished with the high sentence. But then I saw the Pope’s speech to the public in Mexico by chance. He mentioned a number of reasons why the world should be freed from death penalties. One of them attracted my attention in particular: a catastrophe would occur if just one innocent person was executed mistakenly. This reason helped me in making up my mind.

Christians are confident that he can help them make up their minds on whether to remain in their homeland and return to their home or leave the region. This step is extremely important to the history of the region, so why shouldn't the visit happen?

JOL Blogger | Chiman Salih

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