Baghdad (AsiaNews) - Bishops, priests, religious, consecrated people and dozens of faithful yesterday packed St George's Catholic Church in Baghdad to celebrate the name day of Pope Francis, the apostolic nuncio to Iraq and Jordan and his secretary. The event reiterated the Church's commitment to the mission and highlighted the importance of vocations, especially in a land where the Christian minority is the victim of persecution. His Beatitude Mar Chaldean Patriarch Raphael I Louis Sako presided over the Mass that saw the participation of papal representative Mgr Giorgio Lingua, Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad Shlemon Warduni, Latin Archbishop of Baghdad Jean Sleiman, along with Mgr Emmanuel Dabbaghian, from the Armenian Church, and Mgr Marc Stenger, president of Pax Christi France.
Before celebrations began (pictures, courtesy of the Chaldean Patriarchate), Mgr Stenger, who is visiting Iraq as a show of solidarity from the French people, stressed the importance of "dialogue and reconciliation" in the country. He also said that Pax Christi and its members want to work for harmony and development in Iraq.
In his address that followed the Gospel reading, His Beatitude Mar Raphael I Louis Sako stressed the importance "of priestly vocations" and of "consecrated people because the future of the Church in Iraq" depends on them as well.
The Chaldean patriarch invited all those present to pray for Pope Francis and for the apostolic nuncio "both of whom bear the name of George" and for Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly, who recently "celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of his Episcopal ordination."
The feast day of St George, which is also name day of Pope Francis (born Jorge Mario Bergoglio) and the apostolic nuncio, provided an opportunity to stress the Church's missionary calling and the importance of vocations.
Indeed, in his homily, Mgr Lingua quoted the pope's remarks to the priests of the diocese of Rome, when he encouraged them "not to forget the suffering of the poor and the marginalised."
"You have a special mission in Iraq," the prelate told those present, "which is to bring Christ to others" through vocations and the total commitment of your life to Jesus.
As part of the celebrations, the parish also organised an exhibit of works by Christian artists depicting the reality and hopes of the Iraqi people.
Previously, Fr Ghadeer, a Carmelite in Baghdad, spoke about the issue of Christian identity in the Middle East and its crisis.
The priest spoke about the challenges Christians face in the region (political conflicts, migration and freedom of religion) and about bearing witness to Christ through clergy training. He also focused on going back to the teachings of Vatican II and the path Jesus showed his disciples as noted in John's account of the miraculous catch of fish.
* Fr Albert Zarazeer, director of communications of the Chaldean Patriarchate