Iraqi Christians have important mission of ‘forgiveness and reconciliation’

Al Tamera Syriac Catholic Church in Qaraqosh burned and destroyed Courtesy of Fr Roni Momika CNA Soldiers survey damaged inflicted by Islamic State forces on Al Tamera Syriac Catholic church in Bakhdida, Iraq, near Mosul. Photo courtesy of Fr. Roni Momika

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin urged the Catholic population of northern Iraq to remain steadfast in their faith and be open to forgiveness despite the numerous challenges facing their community.

Delivering the homily at a Mass at the Syro-Catholic Cathedral of Altahera in Bakhdida (also known as Qaraqosh), near Mosul, Iraq, Parolin likened the plight of the Christian population over the past five years to that experienced by the Holy Family as they fled to Egypt.

"The Church and the whole world witnessed with disbelief and horror the events of the summer 2014, when from one day to the next, you were forced to leave everything behind and flee from your homes," said Parolin.

"In an inspiring witness, you did not deny your faith. Like the Holy Family of Nazareth, you chose the path of exile in order to protect the lives of your children, the hope of the future."

In August 2014, most of the region's Christians left the area after Islamic State took control of Bakhdida. At the time, it was Iraq's largest Christian city. Many of the Christian sites in the town, including the cathedral, were ransacked and destroyed by Islamic State militants.

The city was liberated in October 2016, and since then, its residents have begun to return, albeit hesitantly. Parolin praised the Christians of northern Iraq for staying firm in their beliefs despite "these years of harsh trial," and said that their faith has helped to restore the faith of other Christians around the world. He also offered thanks to the organizations who have worked and prayed to make the area safe once again.

The sacrifices made by the Middle East's Christians, Parolin explained, "will be no less fruitless than the witnesses of the many martyrs" from the early Church, who "bathed the land with their blood and lived their faith heroically to the end."

Parolin acknowledged that forgiveness is difficult, and that even though it may be hard, it must be done in order to be drawn closer to God.

The people of Bakhdida are "experts in forgiveness," he said, adding, "It is moving to know that many people have forgiven those who have wronged them."

"Forgiveness and reconciliation play a very important role in society," Parolin explained. He told those present that they are "called to make a valuable contribution" to the Church and to society as a whole by being "artisans of reconciliation and peace, witnesses of love and forgiveness, a wellspring of goodness and a blessing for all."

This forgiveness, he said, must be a tangible sign of the Christian faith in the area, and communities working together "can become a living witness for our world, torn by division and violence."

"Yet none of this, dear brothers and sisters, can happen without the strength provided by a faith lived fully under the banner of love."
Parolin noted that while people have started to return to the area and begun to rebuild--much like how the Holy Family eventually returned to Nazareth--the harder task they are facing is not the physical rebuilding, but re-establishing a "social fabric" that was torn by "betrayal, bitterness, and hatred" over the last few years. This, he explained, is the true vocation of the region's Christians, who must stay true to their roots, and create a better future for their children.
Christians in the Middle East "are in the presence of Jesus," the cardinal said, who have "a unique and extremely important mission."

"In this holy season of Christmas, may the tender strength of the Child Jesus teach us how to pursue the path of love and humility," said Parolin.

"I pray that all of you will be blessed with the gifts of unity, reconciliation and peace. May the Holy Family of Nazareth confirm you in faith, sustain you in hope, make you grow in charity, and accompany and protect you always."

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