Baghdad, Iraq, Mar 5, 2021 / 08:30 am
Here is the full text of Pope Francis’ address to bishops, priests, religious, consecrated persons, seminarians, and catechists, delivered March 5, 2021, at the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad.
Your Beatitudes, Your Excellencies, Dear Priests and Religious, Dear Brothers and Sisters, I embrace all of you with a father’s affection. I am grateful to the Lord who in his providence has made it possible for us to meet today. I thank His Beatitude Patriarch Ignace Youssif Younan and His Beatitude Cardinal Louis Sako for their words of welcome. We are gathered in this Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation, hallowed by the blood of our brothers and sisters who here paid the ultimate price of their fidelity to the Lord and his Church. May the memory of their sacrifice inspire us to renew our own trust in the power of the cross and its saving message of forgiveness, reconciliation and rebirth. For Christians are called to bear witness to the love of Christ in every time and place. This is the Gospel that must be proclaimed and embodied in this beloved country as well.
As bishops and priests, men and women religious, catechists and lay leaders, all of you share in the joys and sufferings, the hopes and anxieties of Christ’s faithful. The needs of God’s people, and the daunting pastoral challenges that you daily face, have been aggravated in this time of pandemic. What must never be locked down or reduced, however, is our apostolic zeal, drawn in your case from ancient roots, from the unbroken presence of the Church in these lands since earliest times (cf. Benedict XVI, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, 5). We know how easy it is to be infected by the virus of discouragement that at times seems to spread all around us. Yet the Lord has given us an effective vaccine against that nasty virus. It is the hope, it is the hope born of persevering prayer and daily fidelity to our apostolates. With this vaccine, we can go forth with renewed strength, to share the joy of the Gospel as missionary disciples and living signs of the presence of God’s kingdom of holiness, justice and peace.
How much the world around us needs to hear that message! Let us never forget that Christ is proclaimed above all by the witness of lives transformed by the joy of the Gospel. As we see from the earliest 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 Christian discipleship is “not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendour and profound joy, even in the midst of great difficulties” (Evangelii gaudium, 167).
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 to your people, 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-centeredness 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. 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 (cf. Jn 17:21; Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, 37).
Pastors and faithful, priests, religious and catechists share, albeit in distinct ways, in responsibility for advancing the Church’s mission. At times, misunderstandings can arise and we can experience certain tensions; these are the knots that hinder the weaving of fraternity. They are knots we carry within ourselves; after all, we are all sinners. Yet these knots can be untied by grace, by a greater love; they can be loosened by the medicine of forgiveness and by fraternal dialogue, by patiently bearing one another’s burdens (cf. Gal 6:2) and strengthening each other in moments of trial and difficulty.