Pope Francis has sent a recorded video message to Christian refugees in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, which Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, archbishop of Lyon, France, delivered personally on Sunday.
The Pope told the refugees that he would have liked to be there with them personally but since he could not, he hoped the video would let them know “the concern and the love of the entire Church,” adding that he felt “very close to you in these times of trial.”
“Today I wish to draw closer to you who must bear this suffering,” the Pope said.
Francis also reiterated concerns that he has voiced on other occasions, namely that that there seems to be a concerted effort to drive Christians “out of the Middle East,” because “they do not want there to be any Christians there.”
The Pope thanked the Christians for their witness, in which “there is so much suffering.”
“I think of the wounds, of the pain of women with their children, the elderly and the displaced, the wounds of those who are victims of every type of violence,” he said.
Francis said he was particularly concerned “by the fact that because of an extremist, fundamentalist group, entire communities, especially Christians and Yazidi, have suffered and continue to suffer inhuman violence because of their religious and ethnic identity.”
“Christians and Yazidis have been forced out of their homes,” the Pope said, and “have had to abandon everything to save their lives, but they have not denied their faith.”
Francis noted that even “holy buildings, monuments, religious symbols and cultural heritage have been affected by the violence, almost as if to cancel every trace, every memory of the other.”
“As religious leaders,” the Pope added, “we are obliged to denounce all violations of the dignity and rights of humanity.”
He compared Christians in the Middle East to a reed. “When the wind rises and the storm comes,” he said, “the reed bends but it does not break. At the moment, you are like this reed: you bend painfully, but you have the strength to carry forth your faith, which is a witness for us. You are God’s reed today! The reeds that bend under this ferocious wind, but then rise up again.”
Francis ended his address with the wish that the refugees may be able to return to their homeland, assuring them that they are “in my heart and in my prayers.”
“Your resistance,” the Pope said, “is martyrdom; it is dew that brings fruitfulness. Please, pray for me. May the Lord bless you and Our Lady protect you,” he said.
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