Christians an Integral Part of Iraq’s History, Present, Future
Pope Francis addressed bishops, priests, and religious women and men in the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Baghdad on Friday, telling them: “Brothers and sisters: first through your baptism and confirmation, and later through your ordination or religious profession, you were consecrated to the Lord and sent forth to be missionary disciples in this land so closely linked to the history of salvation.”
“You are part of that history,” Pope Francis said, “faithfully bearing witness to God’s never-failing promises as you strive to build a new future.”
“May your witness, matured through adversity and strengthened by the blood of martyrs, be a shining light in Iraq and beyond in order to proclaim the greatness of the Lord and to make the spirit of this people rejoice in God our Saviour.”
The Holy Father was speaking on the first day of a highly anticipated visit to Iraq — an historic first for any pope of Rome — delivering the second major address of a brief but intense and complex visit, on which Pope Francis had described himself as a “penitent” come to ask forgiveness of heaven and his brothers and sisters for the terrible destruction and cruelty visited on Iraq in recent times, and as “a pilgrim of peace,” come to the sorely tried nation and people “in the name of Christ, the Prince of Peace.”
In his address to bishops, priests, and religious — Catholics and Christians of other Churches — Pope Francis exhorted those gathered to hear him to true Christian fraternity.
“The love of Christ summons us to set aside every kind of self-centredness or competition; it impels us to universal communion and challenges us to form a community of brothers and sisters who accept and care for one another,” he said. “The different Churches present in Iraq, each with its age-old historical, liturgical and spiritual patrimony, are like so many individual coloured threads that, woven together, make up a single beautiful carpet,” one that not only “displays our fraternity, but points also to its source.”
“God himself,” Pope Francis said, “is the artist who imagined this carpet, patiently wove it and carefully mends it, desiring us ever to remain closely knit as his sons and daughters.”
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation was the site of a deadly terror attack in 2010, in which 58 people died and scores of others were injured — many of them severely — while the church suffered major damage.
“Let me mention once more our brothers and sisters who died in the terrorist attack in this Cathedral some ten years ago and whose cause for beatification is underway,” Pope Francis said. “Their deaths are a powerful reminder that inciting war, hateful attitudes, violence or the shedding of blood are incompatible with authentic religious teachings.”
Pope Francis went on to say he desired to remember all victims of violence and persecution, regardless of the religion they profess.
“In Ur,” the ancient homeland of the patriarch Abraham, claimed as father in faith by Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike, Pope Francis noted, “I will meet with the leaders of the religious traditions present in this country, in order to proclaim once again our conviction that religion must serve the cause of peace and unity among all God’s children.”
“This evening,” Pope Francis went on to say, “I want to thank you for your efforts to be peacemakers, within your communities and with believers of other religious traditions, sowing seeds of reconciliation and fraternal coexistence that can lead to a rebirth of hope for everyone.”
The mission of the Church is one in which all the faithful participate according to their common baptismal calling, and Pope Francis spoke of the joys and challenges that attend Christian discipleship.
“Pastors and faithful, priests, religious and catechists share, albeit in distinct ways, in responsibility for advancing the Church’s mission,” Pope Francis said. He noted that misunderstandings inevitably arise, as do tensions he described as “the knots that hinder the weaving of fraternity.”
“They are knots we carry within ourselves,” Pope Francis noted, “after all, we are all sinners.” alluding to Our Lady under her title “undoer of knots” — to whom Pope Francis is particularly devoted — he said: “[T]hese knots can be untied by grace, by a greater love; they can be loosened by the medicine of forgiveness and by fraternal dialogue, by patiently bearing one another’s burdens and strengthening each other in moments of trial and difficulty.”
Pope Francis went on to call the young people of Iraq — who constitute a great number of the whole people — an “inestimable treasure for the future.”
“Young people are your treasure,” he told the Christian spiritual leaders in the cathedral, “they need you to care for them, to nurture their dreams, to accompany their growth and to foster their hope.” Noting that their patience has already been sorely tried by the conflicts of recent years, Pope Francis said, “It is up to us to cultivate their growth in goodness and to nurture them with hope.”