Vatican Radio has released the tape of a phone call that Pope Francis made to refugees sheltered in Kurdistan to express his closeness to them on Christmas night.
“You are like Jesus on the night of his birth,” the Pope told them. “There was no place for him and he was driven out and had to flee to Egypt to escape. You are like Jesus tonight and I bless you very much and I am close to you. Remember that you are like Jesus in this situation and this makes me pray even more for you,” he said.
“I greet you all in this evening of Christmas,” the Pope said. “I embrace you all and wish you all a holy Christmas.”
“Dear brothers and sisters,” Francis continued “I am very, very close to you with all of my heart. May the Lord caress you with His tenderness.”
The call was received by Father Benoca, who heads the Christian community in the Ankawa Refugee Center near Erbil, the capital city of Iraqi Kurdistan, and it was broadcast live by an Italian Catholic TV station, along with simultaneous translation into Arabic.
The Pope said to his hearers: “This evening Jesus comes as a little child, tender and innocent,” and added that he remembered the little children among them, including those who have been killed and exploited.
“The Child Jesus is among us,” he said, “and He is the love and tenderness of God.” The Pope ended by saying that children and the elderly “are in my heart this night. And I cordially bless you all, especially children and the elderly,” he said.
Thousands of persecuted Christians have sought refuge in the Ankawa camp following the invasion of Islamic State militants of Mosul. In July it was reported that the last Christian left Iraq’s second largest city, ending 2,000 years of Assyrian Christian presence in the Mosul. On July 17th, the Islamic State released a statement demanding that Christians in Mosul either convert to Islam, paying the jizya (tax on non-Muslims), leave the city, or be killed. Not long afterward, every Christian had chosen to leave.
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