Erbil, Iraq, Apr 7, 2015 / 14:37 pm
The Solemn Easter Vigil in Erbil, Iraq, concluded in a spirit of joyful celebration with the distribution of dove-shaped Easter cakes and rosaries sent by Pope Francis to thousands of Chaldean Christians displaced by ISIS.
More than 70,000 Christians fled to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, after their villages came under attack by the Islamic State (ISIS) last June. The militants have since established a caliphate and have persecuted non-Sunnis in its territory, which extends across swaths of Iraq and Syria.
ISIS has forced more than 1.2 million Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims from their homes in Iraq, under threat of death or heavy fines if they do not convert.
Cardinal Fernando Filoni, sent by Pope Francis to celebrate the Easter Triduum with the persecuted Christians of Iraq and Syria, participated in the solemn ceremony, which was presided over by Chaldean patriarch Louis Sako I and concelebrated by Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil and dozens of other priests.
The Mass took place in an enormous tent in neighborhood "109" in Erbil. More than 5,000 Christians, most of them internal refugees, participated in the ceremony that began at 9 p.m. local time.
After Cardinal Sako delivered the homily, Cardinal Filoni, speaking in Italian and translated into Arabic by an interpreter, said that Pope Francis asked him to deliver the message to Iraqi Christians that "even though I will be presiding at the Easter Vigil in Rome, my heart is with you, and I will not abandon you in my thoughts."
"In this way, we can say the pope is here," the cardinal added.
"I did not come here as a tourist, but rather to make a pilgrimage among the persecuted Christians, a pilgrimage that has done me a great spiritual good," the cardinal said.
At the end of the Easter Vigil, Cardinal Filoni told all those present that in the name of the pope and the faithful of the Diocese of Rome, he had brought as an Easter present – thanks to an airlift provided by the Italian government, 6,000 "colombe" or dove-shaped Italian Easter sponge cakes, as well as 10,000 Rosaries "so that the refugees can continue to pray for the Church and the pope."