Pope in Iraq: May Iraqi Christians be united and witnesses to the Gospel

Francis met with bishops, priests, religious, seminarians and catechists in the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of "Our Lady of Salvation" where a terror attack killed 48 people. “Their deaths are a powerful reminder that inciting war, hateful attitudes, violence or the shedding of blood are incompatible with authentic religious teachings,” said the Pope.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis’s first contact with Iraqi Christians came at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad, scene of the kind of terror that still afflicts Iraq today. “It is important to go out among our flock”, he said, as witnesses of the Gospel and of unity among Christ's followers.

As Card Louis Sako noted, the church suffered a terrorist attack "on 31 October 2010. During Holy Mass, 48 martyrs were killed, including two of our young priests, Tha'er and Wasim, and many were wounded.” For Francis, “Their deaths are a powerful reminder that inciting war, hateful attitudes, violence or the shedding of blood are incompatible with authentic religious teachings” (cf. Enc. Fratelli tutti, 285).

The meeting in the cathedral is the second event in Francis’s visit to Iraq. After the attack in 2010, the building was renovated and a memorial was erected to the victims. As the Pope noted, their cause of beatification is underway. The two slain priests are buried in the crypt.

On this occasion, Francis met with bishops, priests, religious, seminarians and catechists. He mentioned “our apostolic zeal”, adding that “Hardships are part of the daily experience of the Iraqi faithful. In recent decades, you and your fellow citizens have had to deal with the effects of war and persecution, the fragility of basic infrastructures and the ongoing struggle for economic and personal security that has frequently led to internal displacements and the migration of many people, including Christians, to other parts of the world.

“I thank you, my brother bishops and priests, for remaining close – close! – to your people, supporting them, striving to meet their needs and helping them play their part in working for the common good. The educational and charitable apostolates of your local Churches represent a rich resource for the life of both the ecclesial community and the larger society. I encourage you to persevere in these efforts, in order to ensure that Iraq’s Catholic community, though small like a mustard seed (cf. Mt 13:31-32), continues to enrich the life of society as a whole.

“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 (cf. Fratelli Tutti, 95-96). Here I think of the familiar image of a carpet. 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 displays not only our fraternity but points also to its source. For God himself 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.”

To a Catholic community with various Church traditions, the pontiff said: “May we thus take to heart the admonition of Saint Ignatius of Antioch: ‘Let nothing exist among you that may divide you… but let there be one prayer, one mind, one hope, in love and in joy’ (Ad Magnesios, 6-7: PL 5, 667). How important is this witness of fraternal union in a world all too often fragmented and torn by division! Every effort made to build bridges between ecclesial, parish and diocesan communities and institutions will serve as a prophetic gesture on the part of the Church in Iraq and a fruitful response to Jesus’ prayer that all may be one.”

Lastly, Francis noted that “Tomorrow, in Ur, 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 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.

“Here I think especially of the young. Young people everywhere are a sign of promise and hope, but particularly in this country. Here you have not only priceless archeological treasures, but also inestimable treasure for the future: the young! Young people are your treasure; they need you to care for them, to nurture their dreams, to accompany their growth and to foster their hope. Even though they are young, their patience has already been sorely tried by the conflicts of these years. Yet let us never forget that, together with the elderly, they are the point of the diamond in this country, the richest fruit of the tree. It is up to us to cultivate their growth in goodness and to nurture them with hope.”