In a meeting with Chaldean bishops from Iraq and Syria Monday, Pope Francis used some of his strongest language to date to condemn what he called the “fanatical hatred” of Islamic terrorists that has provoked a “hemorrhage” of Christian faithful out of the Middle East.
The Pope said he wanted to reach out to all Christians dwelling in “the beloved lands of Iraq and Syria in this particularly troubled and sensitive moment,” offering them a message of comfort and Christian solidarity.
Though he declined to speak of the Islamic State by name, his meaning was lost on no one as he spoke of the grave situation in Iraq and Syria caused by “the fanatical hatred of terrorism, which continues to cause a great hemorrhage of faithful who leave the lands of their fathers, where they grew up firmly rooted in the furrow of tradition.”
Particularly grave, Francis said, is the loss of a Christian presence in the Middle East, biblical lands where Christians have resided since the time of Christ.
This onslaught of terror “clearly undermines the vital Christian presence in that land that witnessed the beginning of the journey of the Patriarch Abraham, heard the voice of the prophets who called Israel to hope during the Exile, and saw the foundation of the first Churches upon the blood of many martyrs,” Francis said.
The Pope also noted how in those lands “Christians bore witness to the fullness of the Gospel” and built a flourishing, peaceful society, which is now being destroyed “by countless examples of persecution, and even martyrdom.”
I pray, Francis said, “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.”
The Pope also reiterated a “heartfelt” summons to the international community to adopt “every valid strategy” to promote peace in these countries that are “terribly devastated by hatred” so that the grievous tragedies caused by violence may yield to a climate of peaceful coexistence.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.