Pope: ‘I Pray That Christians Will Not Be Forced to Abandon Middle East’ (919)

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The Holy Father told the Chaldean bishops: “May God’s mercy soothe the wounds of war afflicting the heart of your communities, so that no one may feel discouragement in this time, when the outcry of violence seems to drown out our heartfelt prayers for peace.”
VATICAN CITY — The sufferings of the Chaldean Catholic Church were the focus of Pope Francis on Monday, when he addressed a synod of Chaldean bishops. He prayed for Middle-East Christians and again called for international work to secure peace.

The Pope told the Chaldean bishops: “May God’s mercy soothe the wounds of war afflicting the heart of your communities, so that no one may feel discouragement in this time, when the outcry of violence seems to drown out our heartfelt prayers for peace.”

Pope Francis lamented the effects of the “fanatical hatred sown by terrorism.” He described the exodus of Christians “who leave the lands of their fathers, where they grew up firmly rooted in the furrow of tradition.”

“I pray that Christians will not be forced to abandon Iraq and the Middle East. I think, especially, of the sons and daughters of your Church and their rich traditions,” he said to the Chaldean bishops on Oct. 26.

The Chaldean bishops’ synod is taking place in Rome Oct. 24-29.

The Chaldean Catholic Church has a presence in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Israel and Egypt, as well as France and the United States. There are more than 400,000 Chaldean Catholics around the world, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association reports.

Violence in Iraq after the 2003 U.S. invasion and the rise of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria have resulted in the targeted killings of many Christians. The violence has caused millions of people, including hundreds of thousands of Christians, to flee their homes in the region.

Pope Francis said that in the lands of the Chaldeans, Christians bore witness to the Gospel and contributed to the growth of society “over centuries of peaceful coexistence with our Islamic brothers and sisters.”

“Sadly, these are times which are instead marked by countless examples of persecution, and even martyrdom,” he told the Chaldean synod.

Pope Francis said the situation in the Middle East “clearly undermines the vital Christian presence in that land.” He noted their lands’ role in biblical history: Chaldean lands witnessed the start of Abraham’s journey, heard the prophets during the exile of the Israelites and saw “the foundation of the first Churches upon the blood of many martyrs.”

The Pope noted the needs of the Chaldean diaspora and voiced the Apostolic See’s complete support for the common good of the entire Chaldean Church.

He encouraged the bishops to build unity in Iraq, to heal existing divisions and to prevent new divisions from arising. He endorsed efforts to foster dialogue and cooperation in public life.

“Your visit enables me to renew my heartfelt appeal to the international community to adopt every useful strategy aimed at bringing peace to countries terribly devastated by hatred, so that the life-giving breeze of love will once more be felt in places which have always been a crossroads for peoples, cultures and nations,” the Pope said.

Reflecting on the nature of a bishops’ synod and noting the recent 50th anniversary of the Catholic Church’s Synod of Bishops, he encouraged the Chaldean bishops to embrace a view of authority as service.

Citing St. Paul’s Letter to Philemon, he encouraged the bishops to act with mercy, humility, patience and mutual acceptance.

“May the work of the synod reflect a sense of responsibility, participation and service. Keep always before you the image of the Good Shepherd, who is concerned for the salvation of his sheep and is especially concerned for those who have strayed,” he said.

The Pope encouraged the bishops to be zealous in seeking the good of the souls of priests as well as laity.

“I encourage you to be a father to your priests and all consecrated men and women, who are your primary collaborators and, in respect for tradition and canonical norms, to be accepting of them, benevolent and understanding of their needs, discerning ways to help them be ever more aware of the demands of their ministry and service to the faithful.”

The Pope said that this will “bridge distances and discern the response to be given to the pressing needs of the Chaldean Church today.”

He urged the bishops to fulfill their pastoral responsibilities “with fraternal communion and a missionary spirit.” Concluding, he entrusted the Chaldean Church to the Virgin Mary and asked the bishops to convey his words to the faithful.

“I ask all of you, their pastors, to bring my words of encouragement to the faithful of the Chaldean Church,” he said. “May they echo on your lips as a caress from the Pope, which warms their hearts.”