This evening I have been watching some of the coverage of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Journey to Iraq. He is the first pope to ever visit the birthplace of Abraham.
It’s fascinating to see how the country is welcoming him and my Iraqi friend tells me that Iraqis wish he would either stay longer or come more often given how the pope’s visit is bringing the country together and even putting it into order in amazing ways.
Gifts are naturally an important part of hospitality, but what to get the pontiff who took the name of one about whom it’s been said, “It is doubtful that anyone desired riches as greatly as [he] desired poverty”?
Tonight the President of Iraq, Barham Salih, gifted the pope with the bronze replica plaque pictured above depicting the Sixth Station of the Cross. The original artwork is that of Muslim artist Mohamed Ghani Hikmat, who was revered as the “sheik of sculptors” and who passed away in 2011.
To understand why a Station of the Cross makes a good gift, it’s useful to read the Pope’s address. In it, he says:
“We are gathered in this Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation, hallowed by the blood of our brothers and sisters who here paid the ultimate price of their fidelity to the Lord and his Church. May the memory of their sacrifice inspire us to renew our own trust in the power of the cross and its saving message of forgiveness, reconciliation and rebirth.”
For Pope Francis, and for all Christians, the cross is a gift because, as Edith Stein said, “You can be at all fronts, wherever there is grief, in the power of the cross. Your compassionate love takes you everywhere, this love from the divine heart.”
The power of the cross is the power of sacrificial love to dispel the darkness.
And as Pope Francis commemorated the victims of the terrorist attack that occured in that Cathedral a decade ago, he reminded the world that the power of the cross is also that death does not have the final word; the dead will rise again.