2019-06-11 20:48:51

Pope Francis, while announcing his desire to visit Iraq in 2020, has called for peace in the Middle East and criticized hypocritical leaders who talk about peace but sell weapons to warring nations.

"I think once more with sorrow of the dramatic situation in Syria and the dark clouds that seem to be gathering above it in some yet unstable areas, where the risk of an even greater humanitarian crisis remains high.

"Those lacking food, medical care and schooling, together with orphans, the injured and widows, cry out to heaven... I think sometimes of God's anger that will blaze out against the leaders of countries who speak of peace and sell arms to make wars. This hypocrisy is a sin."

"People escaping, crowded on boats, they cry out, seeking hope, not knowing which ports will be able to welcome them in a Europe which opens its ports to vessels that have to load sophisticated and costly weapons, capable of wreaking havoc that doesn't even spare children," he said.

The pope did not mention specific countries, but it is well known that several Western European nations, Russia, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are among those who have been providing armaments to the warring factions in Syria.

Francis was addressing representatives of ROACO, the 'Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches' when he expressed his desire to visit Iraq.

His wish to visit that country came up when he listed countries that fall within the Reunion's reach and where the faithful continue to suffer — including Syria, Ukraine and the Holy Land.

The pope said his thoughts were with Iraq, "where I have the desire to go next year."

Francis said he hopes that country can build a peaceful future based on the "shared pursuit of the common good on the part of all elements of society, including the religious" without falling back into "hostilities sparked by the simmering conflicts of the regional powers."

He said he hoped it would not succumb to tensions fanned by conflicts between regional powers.

Iraq's small Christian population of several hundred thousand has in the recent years suffered persecution when the so-called Islamic State took control of large swathes of the country but have recovered freedoms since the jihadists were pushed out.

The country is home to many different eastern rite churches, both Catholic and Orthodox. If Francis visits Iraq, he would be the first pope to visit that country.

Pope John Paul II in 2000 wanted to visit Iraq, traditionally held to be the birthplace of Abraham. However, negotiations with the then government of Saddam Hussein broke down and he was unable to go.

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