ROME — Pope Francis promised his closeness and prayers for victims of a violent crackdown on citizen protests in Iraq after distancing himself from pro-democracy protests taking place in Hong Kong.
“I am following the situation in Iraq with concern,” the pope said Sunday following his Angelus message in Saint Peter’s Square. “I have learned with sorrow that the protests of recent days have received a harsh reaction, which has claimed dozens of lives.”
“I pray for the dead and for the wounded,” he continued. “I am close to their families and to the entire Iraqi people, invoking peace and harmony from God.”
On Friday, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Madhi announced his resignation and the Iraqi parliament is scheduled to meet Sunday to begin the process of choosing a successor.
Over the last two months Iraq has seen massive protests over growing Irani influence in the government as well as other issues. Security forces, reportedly supervised by Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, have responded with lethal force and 44 demonstrators were killed last Thursday after storming the Iranian consulate in Najaf.
Tehran reportedly ordered Abdul-Madhi to quash the demonstration and the prime minister sent in military units to “impose security and restore order.”
The pope’s decision to single out Iraq for support and recognition Sunday comes just days after the pontiff said he had not spoken out about similar protests in Hong Kong because they are just one case among many around the world.
During an in-flight press conference while returning from Asia to Italy last Tuesday, a journalist asked Francis what he thought of the protests going on in Hong Kong, a question the pope dodged, responding instead that the problem must be “relativized” among other difficult situations occurring around the globe.
“It’s not just Hong Kong. Think of Chile, think of France — the democratic France with a year of yellow vests — think of Nicaragua, think of the other Latin American countries, Brazil, which is struggling, and also any European country. It’s a generalized thing,” he said.
“What does the Holy See do with this? Call for dialogue, for peace. But it’s not just Hong Kong,” he said. “There are several issues that have problems and I am not able to evaluate them right now. I respect peace and ask for peace for all these troubled countries. There are also problems in Spain, problems like that. It is important to relativize things and to call for dialogue and peace to solve problems.”
While refusing to comment on the Hong Kong protests, the pope added that he would like to go to Beijing.
“I love China,” he said.