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LONDON: During his meeting with Iraqi Christian leaders on Monday, Pope Francis encouraged Iraqi Christian communities to promote dialogue and build brotherhood to prevent extremism and fundamentalism.

He held an audience with representatives of the Christian Churches of Iraq visiting Rome, celebrating the first anniversary of his apostolic journey to the country in March 2021.

Members of the Iraqi delegation included Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Nicodemus Daoud of Mosul and Eastern Assyrian Bishop Abris Youkhanna of Kirkuk and Diana, who thanked the pope for his visit last year.

Pope Francis told his audience that Iraq is the cradle of civilization and Christianity, adding, “I bow to the suffering and martyrdom of those who preserved the faith, even at the cost of their lives.” .

He said: “Iraq without Christians would no longer be Iraq, because Christians, along with other believers, contribute strongly to the specific identity of the country as a place where coexistence, tolerance and mutual acceptance have flourished since the earliest centuries.

He added: “No stone should be spared to ensure that Christians continue to feel that Iraq is their home and that they are full citizens.”

Pope Francis said Christians have a duty to ensure dialogue with other faiths and community groups because it is “the best antidote to extremism, which is a danger for followers of any religion and a serious threat to peace”.

He added that fundamentalism can only be eradicated by addressing its root causes, which include “material, cultural and educational poverty, and situations of injustice and vulnerability.”

Daoud said the Pope’s visit in March 2021 had a positive impact on interfaith relations, with Muslims better understanding and appreciating their fellow Christians.

Youkhanna said the visit inspired “new impetus and new light” to religious dialogue in Iraq, adding: “Dialogue is about human relationships that constantly remind us that we are all children of God, and therefore brothers. “.

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