Photo credit : Vatican Media

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March 7, 2021 : Pope Francis on Saturday appealed for harmony among the followers of the world’s major monotheistic religions at an interreligious meeting in the Plain of Ur, southern Iraq.

Speaking at the ancient site, believed to be the birthplace of Abraham, the pope emphasized the shared heritage of Christians, Muslims and Jews.

“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,” he said on March 6.

“Hostility, extremism and violence are not born of a religious heart: they are betrayals of religion. We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion; indeed, we are called unambiguously to dispel all misunderstandings.”

The Bible names Abraham’s birthplace as Ur Kaśdim (translated as Ur of the Chaldeans), leading scholars to identify the southern Iraqi city as the location of his birth.

“This blessed place brings us back to our origins, to the sources of God’s work, to the birth of our religions. Here, where Abraham our father lived, we seem to have returned home,” the pope said.

“It was here that Abraham heard God’s call; it was from here that he set out on a journey that would change history. We are the fruits of that call and that journey. God asked Abraham to raise his eyes to heaven and to count its stars. In those stars, he saw the promise of his descendants; he saw us.”

“Today we, Jews, Christians and Muslims, together with our brothers and sisters of other religions, honor our father Abraham by doing as he did: we look up to heaven and we journey on earth.”

Ur was once a thriving Sumerian city-state in ancient Mesopotamia. The partially restored Ziggurat of Ur, visible during the pope’s live-streamed address, testifies to its storied history. The temple was built in the 21st century BC in honor of the Sumerian moon god and its ruins were excavated from the 1920s onwards.

The interreligious meeting began at 11:10 a.m. local time with an opening song. Readings from the Book of Genesis and the Koran were then sung.

Four people offered their testimonies: two young people, a female adherent of Mandaeism, a monotheistic Gnostic religion native to southern Mesopotamia, and a Shiite Muslim professor.

The two youths -- Dawood Ara, a Christian, and Hasan Salim, a Muslim -- work together part-time at a clothing store in Basra to fund their studies.

“Although Dawood and me are not of the same religion, our story shows that we can work together and that we can be friends,” Salim said.

Rafah Husein Baher, an Iraqi Sabean Mandean, told the story of her co-religionist Najy, who lost his life trying to save his Muslim neighbor’s family.

Ali Zghair Thajeel, a professor at the University of Nassiriya, spoke of his efforts to promote pilgrimages to Ur, a city “mentioned in the Holy Bible, the Holy Koran and most of the Divine books.”

Pope Francis then spoke, focusing on the importance of fraternity among “the descendants of Abraham.”

In visiting Ur, Pope Francis fulfilled a dream of Pope John Paul II, who hoped to mark the turn of the millennium with a journey “in the footsteps of Abraham.” But the Polish pope was unable to travel to Ur.

In his address, Francis highlighted examples of interreligious cooperation amid the turbulence of 21st-century Iraq.

He said: “When terrorism invaded the north of this beloved country, it wantonly destroyed part of its magnificent religious heritage, including the churches, monasteries and places of worship of various communities.”

“Yet, even at that dark time, some stars kept shining. I think of the young Muslim volunteers of Mosul, who helped to repair churches and monasteries, building fraternal friendships on the rubble of hatred, and those Christians and Muslims who today are restoring mosques and churches together.”

The pope described Abraham’s life story as a “journey outwards.” He said that all believers were required to take a similar path.

At the end of the interreligious meeting, those present recited a “Prayer of the Children of Abraham.”

Source : CNA

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