Pope Francis said Mass at the Chaldean Catholic cathedral in Baghdad on the second day of a three-day visit to Iraq intended to strengthen the hope of the country’s persecuted Christian minority and foster fraternity and interreligious dialogue.
Francis is the first pope in history to visit the Middle Eastern country, fulfilling a hope of St. Pope John Paul II.
In his homily, the pope reflected on the promises of God, which he said “guarantee unrivalled joy and never disappoint.”
“At times we may feel helpless and useless. We should never give in to this,” he encouraged the Chaldeans, “because God wants to work wonders precisely through our weaknesses.”
Pope Francis said “of course, we experience trials, and we frequently fall, but let us not forget that, with Jesus, we are blessed. Whatever the world takes from us is nothing compared to the tender and patient love with which the Lord fulfils his promises.”
The Chaldeans are one of several Eastern Catholic communities found in Iraq. They trace their history to the early Christians through their connection with the Church of the East. Before the population was diminished by Islamic State violence, Chaldeans made up two-thirds of Iraqi Christians.
Pope Francis also made history March 6 by being the first pope to offer Mass in the Chaldean rite. The papal Mass was said in a mix of Italian, Arabic, and the Chaldean language, which is a dialect of Aramaic.
The Prayers of the Faithful were read in Arabic, Chaldean, Kurdish, Turkmen, and English.
“Perhaps when you look at your hands they seem empty, perhaps you feel disheartened and unsatisfied by life. If so, do not be afraid: the Beatitudes are for you,” the pope said.
“For you who are afflicted, who hunger and thirst for justice, who are persecuted. The Lord promises you that your name is written on his heart, written in heaven!” he stated.
“Today I thank God with you and for you, because here, where wisdom arose in ancient times, so many witnesses have arisen in our own time, often overlooked by the news, yet precious in God’s eyes,” he continued. “Witnesses who, by living the Beatitudes, are helping God to fulfil his promises of peace.”
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St. Joseph Cathedral, called Mar Yousef, was constructed in the 1950s, and restored in 2018 by Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphaël Sako.
The cathedral can seat 400, but due to COVID-19 precautions, the Mass was limited to an attendance of 180 people.
In his homily, Francis encouraged Catholics to not try to be “occasional heroes, but to become witnesses day after day.”
“Witness is the way to embody the wisdom of Jesus. That is how the world is changed: not by power and might, but by the Beatitudes. For that is what Jesus did: he lived to the end what he said from the beginning.”
He pointed to the Scripture passage in 1 Corinthians 13, which says “love is patient,” to remind Catholics that though people throughout history have been unfaithful to the covenant with God, and have fallen into the “same old sins,” the “Lord always remained faithful.”
“This patience to begin anew each time is the first quality of love,” he emphasized, encouraging them to follow the Lord’s example.