Pope in Iraq: May Iraqi Christians work together for a future of fraternity
The Mass celebrated in Erbil is the last public event in Pope Francis’s trip to Iraq. “We need the baneful temptations of power and money to be swept from our hearts and from the Church. To cleanse our hearts, we need to dirty our hands, to feel accountable and not to simply look on as our brothers and sisters are suffering.”
Erbil (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis celebrated Sunday Mass in Franso Hariri Stadium, Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, amid tight security with helicopters and drones. After the service, the pontiff called for “Working together in unity for a future of peace and prosperity that leaves no one behind and does not discriminate against anyone.”
The solemn Mass was the only event that saw the participation of thousands of people and the only one in which he used the popemobile rather than a bullet-proof car, a sign of Kurdistan’s difference from the rest of the country.
When he arrived in the stadium, the more than 10,000 people present shouted cries of joy and waved flags, while many young people ran along with the popemobile.
Francis arrived in Erbil from Qaraqosh. Before the liturgical service, he lunched at St Peter's Patriarchal Seminary, the only one in Iraq. About 14 students are enrolled, some of them from families who suffered at the hands of the Islamic State group.
In his homily, Francis cited the expulsion of merchants from the temple to say that Jesus, as he did in the temple, does not “want our hearts to be places of turmoil, disorder and confusion. Our heart must be cleansed, put in order and purified. Of what? Of the falsehoods that stain it, from hypocritical duplicity. All of us have these. They are diseases that harm the heart, soil our lives and make them insincere.
“We need to be cleansed of the deceptive securities that would barter our faith in God with passing things, with temporary advantages. We need the baneful temptations of power and money to be swept from our hearts and from the Church. To cleanse our hearts, we need to dirty our hands, to feel accountable and not to simply look on as our brothers and sisters are suffering.”
“How do we purify our hearts? By our own efforts, we cannot; we need Jesus. He has the power to conquer our evils, to heal our diseases, to rebuild the temple of our heart.”
“God does not let us die in our sins. Even when we turn our backs on him, he never leaves us to our own devices. He seeks us out, runs after us, to call us to repentance and to cleanse us of our sins.”
“Jesus not only cleanses us of our sins, but gives us a share in his own power and wisdom. He liberates us from the narrow and divisive notions of family, faith and community that divide, oppose and exclude, so that we can build a Church and a society open to everyone and concerned for our brothers and sisters in greatest need. At the same time, he strengthens us to resist the temptation to seek revenge, which only plunges us into a spiral of endless retaliation.
“In the power of the Holy Spirit, he sends us forth, not as proselytizers, but as missionary disciples, men and women called to testify to the life-changing power of the Gospel. The risen Lord makes us instruments of God’s mercy and peace, patient and courageous artisans of a new social order. [. . .] Christian communities made up of simple and lowly people become a sign of the coming of his kingdom, a kingdom of love, justice and peace.”
“The Church in Iraq, by God’s grace, is already doing much to proclaim this wonderful wisdom of the cross by spreading Christ’s mercy and forgiveness, particularly towards those in greatest need. Even amid great poverty and difficulty, many of you 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, 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.”
In his farewell remarks, at the end of the celebration, Francis mentioned the ecumenism of blood of which he has often spoken about.
“I embrace the Christians from various confessions,” he said. “Many here have shed blood on the same soil! But our martyrs shine together, stars in the same heaven! From up there they ask us to walk together, without hesitation, towards the fullness of unity.”
The Mass in Erbil was the last public event of Francis' trip to Iraq. From Erbil he returned to Baghdad from where, tomorrow morning, he will leave for Rome.
“Iraq will always remain with me, in my heart,” he added in his greeting at the end of service.
“I offer you my prayers for this beloved country. In particular, I pray that the members of the various religious communities, together with all men and women of good will, will cooperate in forging bonds of fraternity and solidarity in the service of the common good and peace.
“Salām, salām, salām (Peace, peace, peace)! Shukraan (Thank you)! God bless you all! God bless Iraq! Allah ma'akum (God be with you)!”