Vatican City (AsiaNews) - The Iraqi Chaldean bishops have given Benedict XVI the liturgical robe of Archbishop Paul Faraj Rahho (see photo) and the stole belonging to Fr. Ragheed Ganni. Both men were killed in Mosul, Archbishop Rahho in 2008, Fr. Ragheed in 2007. The gifts were given during the concluding audience for the ad limina visit made recently by the Eastern bishops. The pope received the relics "with emotion," and recalled the "victims of violence in Iraq during these years" - and in particular the two martrys and the many other priests and faithful - saying that "their sacrifice is a sign of their love for the Church and their country."
In his address to the bishops, the pontiff emphasized the "irreplaceable" value of the Chaldean Church in the history of the East, and of Iraq in particular, and exhorted them to continue this mission in the service "of the human and spiritual development" of the country. For this reason, he said that "it is necessary to promote a high cultural level among the faithful, especially among the young. A good formation in the various areas of knowledge, both religious and secular, is a valuable investment for the future."
He also asked the Iraqi faithful to carry out "a role of moderation" in the construction of the country, in order to shape relationships of understanding among Christians and Muslims, specifying that "the Christians who have always lived in Iraq are full-fledged citizens with the same rights and duties as all, without distinction of religion."
The pope addressed more directly the "daily violence" directed against the Christians. He asked the bishops to support their faithful by "urging them to love the land of their ancestors, to whom they remain profoundly attached." At the same time, the bishops must "appeal to the authorities responsible for the recognition of their human and civil rights."
To the problem of violence in the country is also connected the problem of the diaspora and of emigration. Benedict XVI thanked all of those who in various countries are welcoming the Iraqis who "for a certain period of time must unfortunately leave Iraq," and asked the bishops to care for the faithful of the diaspora. "It is indispensable," the pontiff specified, "for the faithful to preserve their cultural and religious identity, and for the young people to discover and appreciate the rich heritage of their ancestral Church. In this perspective, the spiritual and moral assistance required by the faithful scattered throughout the world must be taken into serious consideration by their pastors, in fraternal relations with the bishops of the local churches."
The pope also emphasized the importance of synod assemblies among the bishops, urging them to "communion and to living interepiscopal charity" in order to "elaborate common pastoral directives." In this regard, the synod of Chaldean bishops scheduled for last December was delayed until May of 2009, despite all of the urgencies presented by the situation in the country.
Finally, Benedict XVI asked the bishops to be close to their faithful, and to urge them on by example, to "remain close to the people in need or in difficulty, the sick, the suffering," and praised the efforts of many Christians who are giving a "testimony of unselfish charity . . . without distinction of origin or religion."
The pope concluded with a wish: "May the prayer and help of your brothers in the faith and of many people of good will accompany you, so that the loving face of God may continue to shine upon the Iraqi people who have known such great suffering."