Pope shines spotlight on suffering of Christians in Syria, Iraq

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A Syrian man cooks on a makeshift fire at a refugee camp. Pope Francis’ visit to Georgia shines a spotlight on sufferings of Christians in Syria and Iraq. – AP
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis will shine the spotlight on the suffering Christian communities in Syria and Iraq as he visits a Chaldean church in Georgia at the start of his 16th pastoral journey abroad.

On the first day of his September 30th to October 2nd visit to the Caucuses region, the Pope will have an important encounter at the Syro-Chaldean church of St Simon the Tanner in Tbilisi, with members of one of the three different rites that make up the small Catholic community in Georgia.

There he will meet with Chaldean bishops from all over the world led by their Patriarch Louis Sako from the Iraqi capital Baghdad. It will be a profoundly spiritual encounter as the Pope joins the Church leaders in prayer for the suffering people of Syria and Iraq, so many of whom have been driven out of their ancestral lands by so-called Islamic State militants.

Cardinal Fernando Filoni is head of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples and before that he served as Apostolic Nuncio to Iraq for five years during the Gulf War. Pope Francis has also sent him on humanitarian missions to provide support for Iraqi refugees who have fled from the conflict in their country.

Cardinal Filoni talked to Philippa Hitchen about the importance of the Pope’s encounter in Georgia and about the possibility of peaceful coexistence throughout the Middle East region….

Listen to the interview:

Cardinal Filoni says this encounter is important because many of these patriarchs, bishops and archbishops, met together recently in Amman and will be reporting back to the Holy Father about their concerns and considerations, their preoccupations and their difficulties. “They will present their point of view”, he says and they will listen to the message that the Pope brings to them.

“We don’t think that we can magically solve these problems”, the cardinal says, but the Pope’s presence represents “a good opportunity for our Catholic community to feel they are not forgotten or abandoned”. Though we cannot solve all the material problems, he insists, it is important that “they feel they are at the heart of the Church”, that the Pope is listening to them and that “they are not abandoned. Psychologically, it is very important”, he adds.

Cardinal Filoni says it is not just a problem of the effects of the bombs in Syria and Iraq today but also about the future of Christians in that part of the world. “This is the land where it is possible to live together”, he says, stressing that “it has happened for centuries and we are sure it could happen today”, provided there is the “good will and participation of all, especially the minorities”. In the past, he says, those minorities have felt abandoned or felt the desire to take revenge for situations they have suffered.

Pope Francis, the cardinal concludes, will offer Chaldean Catholics “a word of reconciliation and  understanding, but also of justice and rights”.