Pope Francis: At Easter, Do Not Forget Persecution of Iraqi Christians

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Iraqi Christians, who fled the violence in the northern city of Mosul after Islamic State (IS) group militants took control of the area, attend a weekly prayer at the Ashti camp in Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on March 4, 2016.

by Thomas D. Williams, Ph.D.25 Mar 2016187
In a Holy Week letter sent to Iraqi Christians in Erbil, Pope Francis has called on people of the world to “not forget the tragedy of persecution” suffered by Christians in the Middle East.

The Pope sent the letter, together with a gift of liturgical vestments and some money, via a delegation of the Italian branch of Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic group that provides assistance to suffering Christians throughout the world.

Erbil has been housing thousands of Christian refugees from Mosul and the Nineveh Plains, which was overrun by the Islamic State in 2014.

“As soon as the Holy Father learned about my journey with Aid to the Church in Need, he called me and expressed a desire to send a gift to our Iraqi brothers in faith,” said Bishop Cavina, who accompanied the delegation.

The Pope’s letter expressed his friendship and “spiritual closeness” to Iraqi Christians, adding that their suffering “grieves me deeply, and invites us to defend the inalienable right of every person to freely profess their faith.”

Pope Francis called on people of the world “not to forget the tragedy of persecution,” and held up “the witness of courageous faith and patience of so many disciples of Christ.”

This week, Patriarch Raphael Louis Sako I, president of the Iraqi Bishops’ Conference, has also published an Easter message in which he implored Christians not to leave Iraq, despite the hardships.

Christians must “stay united in this land of ours, in which we were born, where we have lived for 1400 years,” he said.

He also exhorted Iraqi Christians not to “fall into confusion” and to not let others “take advantage of our anxieties and disperse our families to the four corners of the earth.”

“Christ died and rose is a sign of hope, an encouragement to remain united in this land of ours, in which Christians must continue to be pattern of light and hope, faithful to the Iraqi family,” he said.