Pope Francis' upcoming apostolic visit to Iraq offers Americans a time for prayer and solidarity with the pope and the Iraqi people, said two leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB president, and Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, chairman of the bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, called on "all the faithful and people of goodwill in the United States to pray for the success and safety of Pope Francis' apostolic journey to Iraq March 5-8," in a statement released on the eve of the trip.
They also said the first papal visit to troubled Middle Eastern country "presents a critical opportunity to remember the suffering people of Iraq."
"We share in the Holy Father's message of solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters who are a part of the rich and ancient cultural fabric of the region and yet have undergone great trials in recent years," the prelates said.
Through prayer with Mary, the leaders added, the faithful can join together in "beseeching that the anticipated interreligious meetings will be marked by new pathways of mutual understanding and peace."
"As Pope Francis exhorts in "Evangelii Gaudium," may these encounters be marked by 'an attitude of openness in truth and in love,'" the statement said.
The prelates concluded, "May this moment in history mark a renewed hope for the Church in Iraq, the rebuilding of this society and peaceful coexistence for all."