APOSTOLIC JOURNEY OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS
[5-8 MARCH 2021]
MEETING WITH BISHOPS, PRIESTS, RELIGIOUS, SEMINARIANS AND CATECHISTS
SPEECH OF THE HOLY FATHER
Syrian-Catholic Cathedral of “Our Lady of Salvation” in Baghdad
Friday, March 5, 2021
Dear Priests and Religious,
dear brothers and sisters!
I embrace you all with paternal affection. I am grateful to the Lord who in his providence has allowed us to meet today. I thank His Beatitude Patriarch Ignace Youssif Younan and His Beatitude Cardinal Louis Sako for their welcome words.
We are gathered in this Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation, blessed by the blood of our brothers and sisters who here paid the extreme price of their fidelity to the Lord and his Church. May the memory of their sacrifice inspire us to renew our confidence in the strength of the Cross and its saving message of forgiveness, reconciliation and rebirth. In fact, the Christian is called to bear witness to the love of Christ everywhere and at all times. This is the Gospel to be proclaimed and incarnated also in this beloved country.
As bishops and priests, men and women religious, catechists and lay leaders, you all share the joys and sufferings, hopes and anxieties of Christ's faithful. The needs of God's people and the arduous pastoral challenges you face on a daily basis have worsened in this time of pandemic. However, what must never be blocked or reduced is our apostolic zeal, which you draw from very ancient roots, from the uninterrupted presence of the Church in these lands from the earliest times (cf.BENEDICT XVI, Apostolic Exhortation Postsin Ecclesia in Medio Orient , 5).
We know how easy it is to be infected with the virus of discouragement that sometimes seems to spread around us. Yet the Lord has given us an effective vaccine against this nasty virus: it is hope. The hope that arises from persevering prayer and daily fidelity to our apostolate. With this vaccine we can move forward with ever new energy, to share the joy of the Gospel, as missionary disciples and living signs of the presence of the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of holiness, justice and peace.
How much the world around us needs to hear this message! Let us never forget that Christ is announced above all by the witness of lives transformed by the joy of the Gospel. As we see from the ancient history of the Church in these lands, a living faith in Jesus is “contagious”, it can change the world. The example of the saints shows us that following Jesus Christ "is not only a true and just thing, but also a beautiful thing, capable of filling life with a new splendor and a profound joy, even in the midst of trials" (Apost. . Evangelii gaudium , 167).
Difficulties are part of the daily experience of the Iraqi faithful. Over the past few decades, you and your fellow citizens have had to face the effects of war and persecution, the fragility of basic infrastructure and the continuing struggle for economic and personal security, which has often led to internal displacement and the migration of many, including among Christians, in other parts of the world. I thank you, brother Bishops and Priests, for having remained close to your people - close to your people! -, supporting it, striving to satisfy the needs of the people and helping each one to do his part in the service of the common good. The educational and charitable apostolate of your particular Churches represent a precious resource for the life both of the ecclesial community and of society as a whole.Mt 13 : 31-32), continue to enrich the journey of the country as a whole.
The love of Christ asks us to put aside any kind of self-centeredness and competition; pushes us to the universal communion and calls us to form a community of brothers and sisters who will welcome and take care of one another (cf.. Brothers all , 95-96). I think of the familiar image of a carpet. The different Churches present in Iraq, each with its centuries-old historical, liturgical and spiritual heritage, are like many single colored threads that, woven together, make up a single, beautiful carpet, which not only attests our fraternity, but also refers to its source. Because God himself is the artist who conceived this carpet, who weaves it with patience and mends it with care, always wanting us to be well intertwined, like his sons and daughters. May the exhortation of St. Ignatius of Antioch always be in our hearts: "There is nothing among you that can divide you, [...] but there is only one prayer, one spirit, one hope, in love and joy »( Ad Magnesios , 6-7: PL5, 667). How important is this testimony of fraternal union in a world often fragmented and torn by divisions! Every effort made to build bridges between ecclesial, parochial and diocesan communities and institutions will serve as a prophetic gesture of the Church in Iraq and as a fruitful response to Jesus' prayer that all may be one ( cf.Jn 17:21; Ecclesia in Medio Oriente , 37).
Pastors and faithful, priests, religious and catechists share, albeit in different ways, the responsibility of carrying out the mission of the Church. Sometimes misunderstandings can arise and we can experience tensions: they are the knots that hinder the weaving of fraternity. They are knots that we carry within us; after all, we are all sinners. However, these knots can be untied by Grace, by a greater love; they can be loosened by forgiveness and fraternal dialogue, patiently bearing one another's burdens (cf. Gal 6: 2) and strengthening each other in moments of trial and difficulty.
Now I would like to say a special word to my brother bishops. I like to think of our episcopal ministry in terms of closeness: our need to remain with God in prayer, alongside the faithful entrusted to our care and our priests. Be particularly close to your priests. May they see you not as administrators or managers, but as fathers, concerned that their children are well, ready to offer them support and encouragement with an open heart. Accompany them with your prayer, with your time, with your patience, appreciating their work and guiding their growth. In this way you will be for your priests a visible sign of Jesus, the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep and gives his life for them (cf. Jn 10 : 14-15).
Dear priests, men and women religious, catechists, seminarians who are preparing for the future ministry: you have all heard the voice of the Lord in your hearts and as young Samuel answered: "Here I am" ( 1 Sam3.4). May this response, which I invite you to renew every day, lead each of you to share the Good News with enthusiasm and courage, always living and walking in the light of the Word of God, which we have the gift and the task of proclaiming. We know that our service also has an administrative component, but that doesn't mean we have to spend all our time in meetings or behind a desk. It is important to go out in the midst of our flock and offer our presence and our accompaniment to the faithful in cities and villages. I think of those who risk being left behind: the young, the elderly, the sick and the poor. When we serve our neighbor with dedication, as you do, in a spirit of compassion, humility, kindness, with love, we are truly serving Jesus, as he himself told us (cf.Mt 25,40). And by serving Jesus in others, we discover true joy. Do not turn away from the holy people of God in which you were born. Do not forget your mothers and grandmothers, who "nursed" you in faith, as Saint Paul would say (cf. 2 Tim 1,5). Be shepherds, servants of the people and not state officials, clerics of state. Always among the people of God, never detach yourself as if you were a privileged class. Do not deny this noble "lineage" which is the holy people of God.
I would now like to return to our brothers and sisters who died in the terrorist attack on this Cathedral ten years ago and whose cause for beatification is ongoing. Their death strongly reminds us that incitement to war, hatred, violence and bloodshed are incompatible with religious teachings (cf. Enc. Brothers All , 285). And I want to remember all the victims of violence and persecution, belonging to any religious community. Tomorrow, in Ur , I will meet the Leaders of the religious traditions present in this country, to proclaim once again our conviction that religion must serve the cause of peace and unity among all the children of God. Tonight I want to thank you for your commitment 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 all.
I am thinking in particular of young people. Everywhere they are bearers of promise and hope, and especially in this country. Here, in fact, there is not only an inestimable archaeological heritage, but an incalculable wealth for the future: it is the young! They are your treasure and it is necessary to take care of them, nourishing their dreams, accompanying their journey, increasing their hope. Although young, in fact, their patience has already been severely tested by the conflicts of recent years. But let us remember, they - together with the elderly - are the spearhead of the country, the tastiest fruits of the tree: it is up to us, to us, to cultivate them for good and irrigate them with hope.
Brothers and sisters, through Baptism and Confirmation, through ordination or religious profession, you have been consecrated to the Lord and sent to be missionary disciples in this land so closely linked to the history of salvation. You are part of that history, faithfully witnessing God's promises, which never fail, and seeking to build a new future. May your witness, matured in adversity and strengthened by the blood of martyrs, be a light that shines in Iraq and beyond, to announce the greatness of the Lord and to make the spirit of this people rejoice in God our Savior ( cf.Lk 1 : 46-47 ).
Again I give thanks that we were able to meet. Our Lady of Salvation and the Apostle St. Thomas intercede for you and always protect you. I cordially bless each of you and your communities. And I ask you to please pray for me. Thank you!