Last week, Pope Francis made a historic trip to Iraq, impacting many communities in metro Detroit. The first-ever papal visit to the country made headlines worldwide, but the tour was particularly significant to many in Southeast Michigan, which is home to one of the largest Muslim populations in the United States, a large Catholic population and the largest Chaldean population in the world outside of Iraq.
Listen: Imam Elahi and Rev. Kako talk about the impact of Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq on local communities.
Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi is the spiritual leader of the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights. He says Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq was significant amid cultural division and racist attacks, like the influx of extreme violence perpetrated against Asian communities. “We need this kind of language, the language of love … the kind of language that brings solidarity, not more destruction,” says Imam Elahi. The papal visit, he says, also showcased the importance of religious liberty and religion’s potential for harnessing unity. “We need to continue this in Michigan … We are victims of the same problems, the same racism, the same cultural war … There is no excuse for these divisions anymore,” says Imam Elahi on embracing the values of the pope’s historic visit to Iraq.
Rev. Fawaz Kako is the pastor of St. George Chaldean Catholic Church in Shelby Township and vicar general of the Eparchy of St. Thomas, the Chaldean diocese based in Southfield that covers the eastern half of the United States. He says Chaldeans based in Michigan have been in America for many years, are proud citizens and still maintain strong ties to their homeland of Iraq. Having been born in Baghdad, he says he saw the papal visit as celebrating Iraq’s pluralism and the country’s ethnic diversity. “What unites us today is more than religion, more than just a country that we belong to. What unites us is our humanity,” says Rev. Kako. Iraq, he says, has long been impacted by war and conflict and Pope Francis’ visit was a sign of hope and potential for peace. “What we should learn from this visit is that there is hope, there is always hope,” says Rev. Kako.