Pope Francis was the chief celebrant and homilist at Mass for some 10,000 Iraqis at Franso Hariri Stadium in Erbil, northern Iraq, on Sunday afternoon. The facility can seat 25,000, but ticketing was not to capacity and some social distancing measures were in force. Even the chairs on the pitch were carefully placed.
Erbil is an ancient city that was already established in the time of the Assyrian Empire, and today has an ethnically and religiously diverse population that includes Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims, Christians, Yarsanis, and Yazidis. Refugees fleeing the so-called Islamic State in 2014 found safe haven in the city and its surrounding environs.
The late afternoon sun cast a warm glow over the scene.
The Mass was in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, for the Third Sunday of Lent. The First Reading was in Chaldean, the Second Reading in Kurdish, the Gospel in Arabic.
In his homily, Pope Francis preached on the divine power and wisdom in contrast with the human folly that believes itself sufficient, especially when it is powerful. “[T]he truth,” said Pope Francis, “is that all of us need the power and wisdom of God revealed by Jesus on the Cross.”
“On Calvary,” Pope Francis said, “he offered to the Father the wounds by which alone we are healed (cf. 1 Pet 2:24).”
“Here in Iraq,” Pope Francis went on to say, “how many of your brothers and sisters, friends and fellow citizens bear the wounds of war and violence, wounds both visible and invisible! The temptation is to react to these and other painful experiences with human power, human wisdom.”
“Instead,” Pope Francis urged, “Jesus shows us the way of God, the path that he took, the path on which he calls us to follow him.”
Pope Francis went on to praise the the Church in Iraq for the prodigious witness of her members to the Gospel of Christ, “by spreading Christ’s mercy and forgiveness, particularly towards those in greatest need.” He noted that, even amid great poverty and difficulty, many of those present “have generously offered concrete help and solidarity to the poor and suffering.”
“That is one of the reasons that led me to come as a pilgrim in your midst,” Pope Francis explained, “to thank you and to confirm you in your faith and witness.”
“Today, I can see at first hand that the Church in Iraq is alive, that Christ is alive and at work in this, his holy and faithful people.”