Pope says Iraqi Christians experience ‘authentic martyrdom’

By Cindy Wooden /Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Christians of Iraq are experiencing an “authentic martyrdom” and must be supported materially and spiritually by the entire Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI said.

“Peace, so long implored and awaited, unfortunately is still largely being offended,” the pope said in a June 21 speech to representatives of the Catholic communities in the Middle East and to Catholic aid agencies that assist them.

In “vast areas” of the Middle East, including Iraq, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories, “interpersonal and communal relationships” are being compromised by tension, unrest and all-out war, he told participants in a Vatican meeting of church funding agencies for Eastern churches, known by its Italian acronym, ROACO.

“Ancient and new injustices” are being perpetuated in the region, the pope said, leading to new violence and more war.

Pope Benedict said he and all those participating in the meeting wanted to express their solidarity with and closeness to the region’s Christian communities and to “those who venerate the name of God and seek him with a sincere conscience.”

“I knock at the hearts of those who have specific responsibility that they would adhere to their serious obligation to guarantee the peace of everyone, without distinction, freeing them from the deadly illness of religious, cultural, historical or geographical discrimination,” he said.

Pope Benedict offered a special word of support and comfort to Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel-Karim Delly of Baghdad, who attended the meeting.

The pope again offered his condolences to the patriarch for the June 3 “barbaric murder of an unarmed priest and three subdeacons” in Mosul in northern Iraq.

Pope Benedict said, “The entire church accompanies with affection and admiration all the sons and daughters (of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq) in this hour of authentic martyrdom for the sake of Christ’s name.”

The pope also encouraged church representatives from Israel and the Palestinian territories “to reinforce the sorely tried hope” of their faithful.

Pope Benedict said the work of ROACO is a necessary witness of the love of the entire church for the Christian communities in the Middle East.

But Christian charity also is an essential part of the Catholic Church’s commitment to Christian unity and to interreligious dialogue, he said, adding that charity often is the only way “to stimulate the paths of dialogue and to open unexpected horizons.”

The pope prayed that the funding agencies and all Catholics would find ways to demonstrate charity toward all the region’s peoples in a way that would also help, and never offend, the region’s Catholics.