Iraq, the Ultimate “Holy Land”?

An aerial photo shows the 6,000-year-old archaeological site of Ur amid preparations for Pope Francis’ visit near Nasiriyah. (AP Photo)

For nearly a decade I organized and led an annual pilgrimage to Turkey, which I (and Pope Benedict XVI) called “the Holy Land of the Church.” More than any other spot on earth, including Rome and Greece, Turkey has the highest concentration of holy sites dating back to the first few centuries of the Christian Church. I called this experience the “Early Christian World Pilgrimage” because it is there that we can touch the heritage of our church in its infancy.

It’s important for us to realize that the God’s revelation and and love for humankind doesn’t start with Jesus and the Church, although we believe it finds its culmination there. Our roots go way back, back to Abraham, in fact, who came from Ur of the Chaldees, which is in present-day Iraq. Muslims too, as well as Jews, find their common ancestor in Abraham.

With 31% (2.4 billion) of the world Christian and 25% (1.9 billion) Muslim, discovering our family unity in our common ancestor Abraham is essential for the survival of the world. Tragically, both traditions have always been in perpetual conflict both with each other and within themselves. Survival cannot be found in demonizing and subduing “the other,” but only in mutual understanding and trust.

Fr. Jeffrey Kirby writes, “In spite of diverse traditions from the sons of the patriarch, both traditions point back to Abraham and show him immense deference. And so, by understanding this universal love and mutual reverence for Abraham, we have an answer to the question: Why did Pope Francis adamantly want to have prayers offered at Ur? In choosing Ur, the pope was spiritually calling all monotheistic believers (and all people of goodwill) back home to a purity of faith.” Read it all here, it’s worth the five minutes of so it will take.

A few years ago, I took part in an interfaith dialogue on “Abraham as Our Common Father,” from a Jewish, Christian, and Muslim perspective. Each presenter’s words illustrate the reason why it is so important that we seek to understand one another. You can watch the full program here. (My talk is the second video in this playlist.)

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