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Pope Francis visits the destroyed Al-Tahera Syriac Catholic Church in Mosul, Iraq, in 2021 (CNS/Paul Haring)

On the 20th anniversary of the outbreak of war in Iraq, the then-apostolic nuncio to the nation recalls his time in Baghdad, where St John Paul II had sent him as a messenger of peace. Source: Vatican News.

Cardinal Fernando Filoni served as apostolic nuncio in the early 2000s, remaining at his post in Baghdad amid bombings and suicide attacks. 

Cardinal Filoni was appointed as the Vatican’s ambassador to Iraq and Jordan in January 2001, and was at the apostolic nunciature in the Iraqi capital during the US invasion which began on March 20,2003.

“I remember this period as one of the most tough periods of my life,” Cardinal Filoni said.

“This was the moment,” he said, “in which not only myself but also the bishops, the priests, the faithful and the people in Iraq, we had the perception of our incapacity to give a different perspective than that of war”.

He recalled that Pope John Paul II spoke often of the conflict and about the possibility of solving it through dialogue. 

But based on the assumption that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction”, the US president ordered air strikes over Baghdad, marking the beginning of a military operation “to disarm Iraq, to free its people, and to defend the world from grave danger.” US forces toppled Hussein’s regime in a matter of weeks and the search for evidence of Iraq’s so-called “weapons of mass destruction intensified. The weapons were nowhere to be found.

What was “really terrible,” the former apostolic nuncio said about the days following the outbreak of war, was not having the opportunity to foster dialogue and promoting peace, and he remembered how they were forced “just to accept, fatally, the war.”

“We tried to live this moment witnessing the faith, and our solidarity with the people”, Cardinal Filoni continued, showing that it was possible to “do something” in a situation of war.

Cardinal Filoni said Pope Francis’s visit to Iraq in March 2021 was a pilgrimage “to the holy sites of Abraham and many other prophets who lived there, but also a pilgrimage for the many martyrs” both inside and outside the Church.


20th anniversary Iraq war: ‘The Church never abandoned its people’ (By Marie Duhamel and Linda Bordoni, Vatican News)