Browsing News Entries

Full text: Pope Francis’ Angelus address in the Nineveh Plains

Rome Newsroom, Mar 7, 2021 / 04:30 am (CNA).- Here is the full prepared text of Pope Francis’ Angelus address, delivered March 7, 2021, in Bakhdida (Qaraqosh), Iraq.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning! I am grateful to the Lord for the opportunity to be among you this morning. I have looked forward to this time together. I thank His Beatitude Patriarch Ignace Youssif Younan for his words of welcome, and Mrs. Doha Sabah Abdallah and Fr. Ammar Yako for their testimonies. As I look out at you, I can see the cultural and religious diversity of the people of Qaraqosh, and this shows something of the beauty that this entire region holds out to the future. Your presence here is a reminder that beauty is not monochrome, but shines forth in variety and difference.

At the same time, with great sadness, we look around and see other signs, signs of the destructive power of violence, hatred and war. How much has been torn down! How much needs to be rebuilt! Our gathering here today shows that terrorism and death never have the last word. The last word belongs to God and to his Son, the conqueror of sin and death. Even amid the ravages of terrorism and war, we can see, with the eyes of faith, the triumph of life over death.

You have before you the example of your fathers and mothers in faith, who worshiped and praised God in this place. They persevered with unwavering hope along their earthly journey, trusting in God who never disappoints and who constantly sustains us by his grace. The great spiritual legacy they left behind continues to live in you. Embrace this legacy! It is your strength! Now is the time to rebuild and to start afresh, relying on the grace of God, who guides the destinies of all individuals and peoples. You are not alone! The entire Church is close to you, with prayers and concrete charity. And in this region, so many people opened their doors to you in time of need.



Dear friends, this is the time to restore not just buildings but also the bonds of community that unite communities and families, the young and the old together. The prophet Joel says, “Your sons and your daughters shall prophecy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions” (cf. Joel 3:1). When the old and the young come together, what happens? The old dream dreams, they dream of a future for the young. And the young can take those dreams and prophecy, make them reality. When old and young come together, we preserve and pass on the gifts that God gives. We look upon our children, knowing that they will inherit not only a land, a culture and a tradition, but also the living fruits of faith that are God’s blessings upon this land. So I encourage you: do not forget who you are and where you come from! Do not forget the bonds that hold you together! Do not forget to preserve your roots!

Surely, there will be moments when faith can waver, when it seems that God does not see or act. This was true for you in the darkest days of the war, and it is true too in these days of global health crisis and great insecurity. At times like these, remember that Jesus is by your side. Do not stop dreaming! Do not give up! Do not lose hope! From heaven the saints are watching over us. Let us pray to them and never tire of begging their intercession. There are also the saints next-door, “who, living in our midst,  reflect God’s presence” (Gaudete et exsultate, 7). This land has many of them, because it is a land of many holy men and women. Let them accompany you to a better future, a future of hope.

One thing that Doha said moved me deeply. She said that forgiveness is needed on the part of those who survived the terrorist attacks. Forgiveness; that is a key word. Forgiveness is necessary to remain in love, to remain Christian. The road to a full recovery may still be long, but I ask you, please, not to grow discouraged. What is needed is the ability to forgive, but also the courage not to give up. I know that this is very difficult. But we believe that God can bring peace to this land. We trust in him and, together with all people of good will, we say “no” to terrorism and the manipulation of religion. Fr. Ammar, in recalling all that happened during the terrorist attacks and the war, you thanked the Lord who has always filled you with joy, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.



Gratitude is born and grows when we remember God’s gifts and promises. Memory of the past shapes the present and leads us forward to the future. At all times, let us offer thanks to God for his gracious gifts and ask him to grant his peace, forgiveness and fraternity to this land and its people. Let us pray tirelessly for the conversion of hearts and for the triumph of a culture of life, reconciliation and fraternal love between all men and women, with respect for differences and diverse religious traditions, in the effort to build a future of unity and cooperation between all people of good will. A fraternal love that recognizes “the fundamental values of our common humanity, values in the name of which we can and must cooperate, build and dialogue, pardon and grow” (Fratelli tutti, 283).



As I arrived on the helicopter, I saw the statue of Mary on this Church of Immaculate Conception. To her I entrusted the rebirth of this city. Our Lady does not only protect us from on high, but comes down to us with a Mother’s love. Her image here has met with mistreatment and disrespect, yet the face of the Mother of God continues to look upon us with love. For that is what mothers do: they console, they comfort and they give life. I would like to say a heartfelt thank-you to all the mothers and women of this country, women of courage who continue to give life, in spite of wrongs and hurts. May women be respect and protected! May they be shown respect and provided with opportunities! And after, let us pray together to our Mother, invoking her intercession for your needs and future plans. I place all of you under her intercession. And I ask you, please, not to forget to pray for me.

Pope Francis in the Nineveh Plains: ‘Terrorism and death never have the last word’

Rome Newsroom, Mar 7, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis entrusted the rebuilding of Christian communities in the Nineveh Plains to the protection of the Virgin Mary at a church that was once desecrated and burned by the Islamic State.

The pope prayed the Sunday Angelus on March 7 with Christians at a church in Bakhdida, also known as Qaraqosh, a town 20 miles southeast of Mosul occupied by ISIS from 2014 to 2016.

“Our gathering here today shows that terrorism and death never have the last word. The last word belongs to God and to his Son, the conqueror of sin and death,” Pope Francis said in the Syriac Catholic Immaculate Conception Church.

“Even amid the ravages of terrorism and war, we can see, with the eyes of faith, the triumph of life over death.”



The pope said he was moved by the testimonies shared of Christians from the region once devastated by the Islamic State, particularly that of Doha Sabah Abdallah.

“On the morning of August 6, 2014, the city of Bakhdida was awakened by the din of the bombing. We all knew that ISIS was upon us, and that three weeks earlier it had invaded the towns and villages of the Yazidis and treated them with cruelty. So we fled the city, leaving our homes; after two or three days we returned, supported by our strong faith and in the conviction that, being Christians, we are ready for martyrdom,” she said.

“That morning we were busy with the usual things and the children were playing in front of our houses, when an accident happened that forced us to go out. I heard a mortar shell and ran out of the house. The children’s voices fell silent as the screams of the adults increased. They informed me of the death of my son and his cousin, and of the young neighbor who was preparing for marriage.”

The Iraqi woman added: “Our strength undoubtedly comes from our faith in the Resurrection, a source of hope. My faith tells me that my children are in the arms of Jesus Christ our Lord. And we, the survivors, try to forgive the aggressor, because our Master Jesus has forgiven his executioners. By imitating him in our sufferings, we testify that love is stronger than everything.”



A local priest shared how God protected him amid gunfire and a car bomb in Mosul, which exploded a few feet away.

Pope Francis said that Doha Sabah Abdallah’s words on forgiveness touched him deeply.

“The road to a full recovery may still be long, but I ask you, please, not to grow discouraged. What is needed is the ability to forgive, but also the courage not to give up,” Pope Francis said.

The church where the pope met the local Christians was recently completely restored after it was burned by the Islamic State. A new Marian statue sculpted by a local Christian artist was placed atop the bell tower of the Immaculate Conception Church in January.



“Now is the time to rebuild and to start afresh, relying on the grace of God, who guides the destinies of all individuals and peoples,” the pope said.

“You are not alone! The entire Church is close to you, with prayers and concrete charity.”

Before the pope’s remarks, Syriac Patriarch Ignatius Youssef III Younan of Antioch thanked Catholic charitable organizations that worked to rebuild destroyed churches and homes in the region, enabling Christians to return. He mentioned Aid to the Church in Need, L’Œuvre d’Orient, the Knights of Columbus, and the Hungarian government.

“The crowd that welcomed you, as father and pastor, is a part of those Christians who were uprooted in 2014 from their homes in Qaraqosh, Bartella, Baashika, Karemless, and other villages in the Nineveh Plains,” Younan said.

“Here, in the Nineveh Plains, a biblical land, in that month of August 2014, thousands of Christians, with their bishops, priests and religious, were, because of their faith, uprooted from their land and forced to seek refuge in Kurdistan,” he said.

He added: “We are proud that, despite the horrors of the persecution, the faithful present here with their refugee and distant families have remained faithful to their unwavering love for the Gospel of peace and justice, following the example of their heroic ancestors.”



Pope Francis said that this was the time “to restore not just buildings, but also the bonds of community.”

The pope prayed the Angelus with the local Christians, and added that he was grateful for the courage of mothers and all women in Iraq, praying that women in Iraq would be respected, protected, and provided with opportunities.

“As I arrived on the helicopter, I saw the statue of Mary on this Church of Immaculate Conception. To her I entrusted the rebirth of this city. Our Lady does not only protect us from on high, but comes down to us with a Mother’s love,” the pope said.

“Her image here has met with mistreatment and disrespect, yet the face of the Mother of God continues to look upon us with love. For that is what mothers do: they console, they comfort and they give life.”



The pope encouraged Iraqi Christians to “not lose hope,” urging them to “never tire of asking the saints for their intercession.”

“Let us pray tirelessly for the conversion of hearts and for the triumph of a culture of life, reconciliation and fraternal love between all men and women, with respect for differences and diverse religious traditions, in the effort to build a future of unity and cooperation between all people of goodwill,” he said.

Credit for the final two photos goes to EWTN Correspondent Colm Flynn.

Full text: Pope Francis’ prayer of suffrage for the victims of war in Mosul

Mosul, Iraq, Mar 7, 2021 / 02:20 am (CNA).- Here is the full text of Pope Francis’ prayer of suffrage for the victims of the war, delivered March 7, 2021, at Hosh al-Bieaa (Church square) in Mosul, Iraq.

The Holy Father introduces the prayer: 

Before we pray in this city of Mosul for all the victims of war, in Iraq and in the entire Middle East, I would like to share with you these thoughts:  

If God is the God of life -- for so he is -- then it is wrong for us to kill our brothers and sisters in his Name.

If God is the God of peace -- for so he is -- then it is wrong for us to wage war in his Name.

If God is the God of love -- for so he is -- then it is wrong for us to hate our brothers and sisters.



Let us now join in praying for all the victims of war. May Almighty God grant them eternal life and unending peace, and welcome them into his fatherly embrace. Let us pray too for ourselves. May all of us -- whatever our religious tradition -- live in harmony and peace, conscious that in the eyes of God, we are all brothers and sisters.

Prayer:

Most High God, Lord of all ages, you created the world in love and never cease to shower your blessings upon your creatures. From beyond the sea of suffering and death, from beyond all temptations to violence, injustice and unjust gain, you accompany your sons and daughters with a Father’s tender love.

Yet we men and women, spurning your gifts and absorbed by all-too-worldly concerns have often forgotten your counsels of peace and harmony. We were concerned only with ourselves and our narrow interests. Indifferent to you and to others, we barred the door to peace. What the prophet Jonah heard said of Nineveh was repeated: the wickedness of men rose up to heaven (cf. Jonah 1:2). We did not lift pure hands to heaven (cf. 1 Tim 2:8), but from the earth there arose once more the cry of innocent blood (cf. Gen 4:10). In the Book of Jonah, the inhabitants of Nineveh heeded the words of your prophet and found salvation in repentance. Lord, we now entrust to you the many victims of man’s hatred for man. We too implore your forgiveness and beg the grace of repentance: Kyrie eleison! Kyrie eleison! Kyrie eleison!



Lord our God, in this city, we see two signs of the perennial human desire for closeness to you: the Al-Nouri Mosque, with its Al-Hadba minaret, and the Church of Our Lady of the Hour, whose clock for more than a century has reminded passersby that life is short and that time is precious. Teach us to realize that you have entrusted to us your plan of love, peace and reconciliation, and charged us to carry it out in our time, in the brief span of our earthly lives. Make us recognize that only in this way, by putting it into practice immediately, can this city and this country be rebuilt, and hearts torn by grief be healed. Help us not to pass our time in promoting our selfish concerns, whether as individuals or as groups, but in serving your loving plan. And whenever we go astray, grant that we may heed the voice of true men and women of God and repent in due time, lest we be once more overwhelmed by destruction and death.

To you we entrust all those whose span of earthly life was cut short by the violent hand of their brothers and sisters; we also pray to you for those who caused such harm to their brothers and sisters. May they repent, touched by the power of your mercy. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.

Pope Francis prays for victims of war in ruins of Mosul

CNA Staff, Mar 7, 2021 / 02:15 am (CNA).- Pope Francis prayed on Sunday for the victims of war in the rubble-strewn city of Mosul, where the Islamic State declared its caliphate in 2014.

The pope offered a prayer of suffrage March 7 for the thousands killed in Iraq’s second-largest city and across the region.

Addressing God, he said: “To you, we entrust all those whose span of earthly life was cut short by the violent hand of their brothers and sisters; we also pray to you for those who caused such harm to their brothers and sisters. May they repent, touched by the power of your mercy.” 



The pope recited the prayer in Mosul’s Hosh al-Bieaa (Church Square), surrounded by four churches -- Syriac Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Chaldean Catholic -- which were either damaged or destroyed after the Islamic State seized the city.

In his prayer, the pope referred to the city’s Al-Nouri Mosque, where on June 29, 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a caliphate, known as the Islamic State, spanning Iraq and Syria.

The group ruled Mosul for almost three years before Iraqi and international forces reclaimed the city street by street.

Al-Baghdadi was killed during a U.S. raid in Syria in 2019. The organization he led continues to carry out sporadic attacks.

The pope arrived in the square in a black car, emerging beside a mountain of rubble to cheers and ululations from a crowd waving Iraqi flags.

He was visiting the city on the final day of a three-day trip to Iraq intended to strengthen the hope of the country’s persecuted Christian minority and foster fraternity and interreligious dialogue. It is the first papal visit to the country and Francis’ first foreign trip since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

The pope stood on a stage in the square as a band played upbeat music. To his left was a golden cross, draped in a white cloth and topped with a dove, created by Muslims from Mosul.

The pope sat on a white chair as he listened to an address by Archbishop Najib Mikhael Moussa, O.P. The Chaldean archbishop of Mosul welcomed him to “the land of the prophets.”

The 65-year-old Dominican, who was born in Mosul, said: “Thank you for being here with us. You are a pilgrim of peace and a voice that awakens consciences.”

He continued: “We say together no to fundamentalism, no to bigotry, and no to corruption.”

The archbishop was nominated by the European Parliament for the 2020 Sakharov Prize. The citation said that when the Islamic State arrived in Mosul, he “ensured the evacuation of Christians, Syriacs and Chaldeans to Iraqi Kurdistan and safeguarded more than 800 historic manuscripts dating from the 13th to the 19th century.”

The manuscripts were digitized and exhibited in France and Italy.



Gutayba Aagha, a Sunni Muslim and leader of the Independent Social and Cultural Council for the Families of Mosul, described how the city was rising from “the ashes like a phoenix.”

“On behalf of the Council, I urge our Christian brothers and sisters to return to this city of theirs, to their properties, and resume their businesses,” he said.



Fr Emmanuel (Raid) Adel Kallo, pastor of Mosul’s Church of the Annunciation, recalled that before the Islamic State invasion he had led a parish of 500 Christian families. Today there are fewer than 70 Christian families in Mosul, with many afraid to return.

“I returned to Mosul three years ago, after the liberation of the city,” he said.  

“My Muslim brothers welcomed me with great respect and love. The visits of the imams of the mosques of Mosul to bring good wishes to the Church have left a deep mark in my heart.”  

“I was also visited by all the Muslims of the city, including writers, heads of tribes, educated people as well as simple workers, who visited me to give their good wishes on the occasion of the restoration of the Church of the Annunciation that ISIS had destroyed.”

He said that the artist who painted icons, carved statues, and made inscriptions with Gospel verses for the restored church is a Muslim.

“Another beautiful example is the invitation for the ceremony of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad in the mosque of Rashan: this is the first time that a priest to participate in such a ceremony in a mosque,” he said.

“It should be noted that in the same mosque ISIS read the document of the expulsion of Christians in 2014.”

The pope thanked the speakers for their testimonies. He said that the “tragic diminution of Jesus’ disciples” across the Middle East had inflicted “incalculable harm,” not only on Christian communities but also on the societies they left behind.

“As in one of your intricately designed carpets, one small thread torn away can damage the rest,” he said.

The pope welcomed Aagha’s invitation to Christians to return to Mosul and take up “their vital role in the process of healing and renewal.”

“Here in Mosul, the tragic consequences of war and hostility are all too evident,” he said. 

“How cruel it is that this country, the cradle of civilization, should have been afflicted by so barbarous a blow, with ancient places of worship destroyed and many thousands of people -- Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, and others -- forcibly displaced or killed.” 

“Today, however, we reaffirm our conviction that fraternity is more durable than fratricide, that hope is more powerful than hatred, that peace is more powerful than war. This conviction speaks with greater eloquence than the passing voices of hatred and violence, and it can never be silenced by the blood spilled by those who pervert the name of God to pursue paths of destruction.”

Putting on a stole, the pope introduced the prayer of suffrage.

He said: “If God is the God of life -- for so he is -- then it is wrong for us to kill our brothers and sisters in his Name.”

“If God is the God of peace -- for so he is -- then it is wrong for us to wage war in his Name.”

“If God is the God of love -- for so he is -- then it is wrong for us to hate our brothers and sisters.”



He then offered the prayer, which referred to Mosul’s Church of Our Lady of the Hour, which has a famous clock tower. The pope said that the clock “for more than a century has reminded passersby that life is short and that time is precious.”

“Teach us to realize that you have entrusted to us your plan of love, peace, and reconciliation, and charged us to carry it out in our time, in the brief span of our earthly lives,” he prayed.

“Make us recognize that only in this way, by putting it into practice immediately, can this city and this country be rebuilt, and hearts torn by grief be healed.” 

He continued: “Help us not to pass our time in promoting our selfish concerns, whether as individuals or as groups, but in serving your loving plan. And whenever we go astray, grant that we may heed the voice of true men and women of God and repent in due time, lest we be once more overwhelmed by destruction and death.”



After the prayer, the golden cross was unveiled, revealing a centerpiece depicting historical sites in Mosul. The cross will be taken to Karemlesh, a Christian town in northern Iraq.

The pope then released a dove, which remained standing in his palm, before flying up into the air.



A commemorative plaque was unveiled in honor of Francis’ visit. 

It said: “‘How beautiful are the feet of messengers of peace’ (Romans 10:15). In commemoration of the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis, as a messenger of peace and fraternal love, to the city of Mosul and to the Plain of Nineveh. Here, where Christians endured compulsory displacement (2003-2017), the pope prayed for the spread of peace and justice, serene coexistence and human fraternity.”

Iraqi PM declares national day of tolerance in honor of papal meeting with top Shiite cleric

CNA Staff, Mar 6, 2021 / 02:10 pm (CNA).- Iraq’s prime minister on Saturday declared March 6 a National Day of Tolerance and Coexistence in honor of Pope Francis’ landmark meeting with the country’s top Shiite cleric. 

Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi made the announcement via Twitter on March 6 after the meeting between the pope and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

“In celebration of the historic meeting in Najaf between Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and Pope Francis, and the historic interreligious meeting in the ancient city of Ur, we declare March 6 a National Day of Tolerance and Coexistence in Iraq,” he wrote.

The pope visited the 90-year-old al-Sistani at his modest home in Najaf, the third holiest city for Shiite Muslims after Mecca and Medina.



Citing a religious official in Najaf, the Associated Press reported that al-Sistani broke with his custom of staying seated to receive visitors, rising to greet Francis at the door of the room where he holds private conversations with guests. The pope reportedly removed his shoes before entering the room.

A statement afterward from al-Sistani’s office said that the cleric affirmed that the country’s Christian citizens should, like all Iraqis, be able to live in security and peace, freely exercising their constitutional rights.  

After the meeting -- which marked a milestone in relations between the Catholic Church and Shiite Islam -- the pope traveled to the Plain of Ur, where he took part in an interreligious gathering.

Speaking at the ancient site, believed to be the birthplace of Abraham, the pope emphasized the shared heritage of Christians, Muslims, and Jews.

“From this place, where faith was born, from the land of our father Abraham, let us affirm that God is merciful and that the greatest blasphemy is to profane his name by hating our brothers and sisters,” he said March 6.

“Hostility, extremism and violence are not born of a religious heart: they are betrayals of religion. We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion; indeed, we are called unambiguously to dispel all misunderstandings.”

Full text: Pope Francis' homily at Mass in Baghdad's St. Joseph Cathedral

Baghdad, Iraq, Mar 6, 2021 / 09:25 am (CNA).- Here is the full prepared text of Pope Francis’ homily, delivered March 6, 2021, at a Mass in the Chaldean Cathedral of St. Joseph in Baghdad, Iraq.

Today the word of God speaks to us of wisdom, witness and promises.

Wisdom in these lands has been cultivated since ancient times. Indeed the search for wisdom has always attracted men and women. Often, however, those with more means can acquire more knowledge and have greater opportunities, while those who have less are sidelined. Such inequality -- which has increased in our time -- is unacceptable. The Book of Wisdom surprises us by reversing this perspective. It tells us that “the lowliest may be pardoned in mercy, but the mighty will be mightily tested” (Wis 6:6). In the eyes of the world, those with less are discarded, while those with more are privileged. Not so for God: the more powerful are subjected to rigorous scrutiny, while the least are God’s privileged ones.

Jesus, who is Wisdom in person, completes this reversal in the Gospel, and he does so with his very first sermon, with the Beatitudes. The reversal is total: the poor, those who mourn, the persecuted are all called blessed. How is this possible? For the world, it is the rich, the powerful and the famous who are blessed! It is those with wealth and means who count! But not for God: It is no longer the rich that are great, but the poor in spirit; not those who can impose their will on others, but those who are gentle with all. Not those acclaimed by the crowds, but those who show mercy to their brother and sisters. At this point, we may wonder: if I live as Jesus asks, what do I gain? Don’t I risk letting others lord it over me? Is Jesus’ invitation worthwhile, or a lost cause? That invitation is not worthless, but wise.



Jesus’ invitation is wise because love, which is the heart of the Beatitudes, even if it seems weak in the world’s eyes, in fact always triumphs. On the cross, it proved stronger than sin, in the tomb, it vanquished death. That same love made the martyrs victorious in their trials – and how many martyrs have there been in the last century, more even than in the past! Love is our strength, the source of strength for those of our brothers and sisters who here too have suffered prejudice and indignities, mistreatment and persecutions for the name of Jesus. Yet while the power, the glory and the vanity of the world pass away, love remains. As the Apostle Paul told us: “Love never ends” (1 Cor 13:8). To live a life shaped by the Beatitudes, then, is to make passing things eternal, to bring heaven to earth.

But how do we practice the Beatitudes? They do not ask us to do extraordinary things, feats beyond our abilities. They ask for daily witness. The blessed are those who live meekly, who show mercy wherever they happen to be, who are pure of heart wherever they live. To be blessed, we do not need to become occasional heroes, but to become witnesses day after day. Witness is the way to embody the wisdom of Jesus. That is how the world is changed: not by power and might, but by the Beatitudes. For that is what Jesus did: he lived to the end what he said from the beginning. Everything depends on bearing witness to the love of Jesus, that same charity which St. Paul magnificently describes in today’s second reading. Let us see how he presents it.

First, Paul says that “love is patient” (v. 4). We were not expecting this adjective. Love seems synonymous with goodness, generosity and good works, yet Paul says that charity is above all patient. The Bible speaks first and foremost of God’s patience. Throughout history, men and women proved constantly unfaithful to the covenant with God, falling into the same old sins. Yet instead of growing weary and walking away, the Lord always remained faithful, forgave and began anew. This patience to begin anew each time is the first quality of love, because love is not irritable, but always starts over again. Love does not grow weary and despondent, but always presses ahead. It does not get discouraged, but stays creative. Faced with evil, it does not give up or surrender. Those who love do not close in on themselves when things go wrong, but respond to evil with good, mindful of the triumphant wisdom of the cross. God’s witnesses are like that: not passive or fatalistic, at the mercy of happenings, feelings or immediate events. Instead, they are constantly hopeful, because grounded in the love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (v. 7).

We can ask ourselves: how do we react to situations that are not right? In the face of adversity, there are always two temptations. The first is flight: we can run away, turn our backs, trying to keep aloof from it all. The second is to react with anger, with a show of force. Such was the case of the disciples in Gethsemane: in their bewilderment, many fled and Peter took up the sword. Yet neither flight nor the sword achieved anything. Jesus, on the other hand, changed history. How? With the humble power of love, with his patient witness. This is what we are called to do; and this is how God fulfils his promises.



Promises. The wisdom of Jesus, embodied in the Beatitudes, calls for witness and offers the reward contained in the divine promises. For each Beatitude is immediately followed by a promise: those who practice them will possess the kingdom of heaven, they will be comforted, they will be satisfied, they will see God… (cf. Mt 5: 3-12). God’s promises guarantee unrivalled joy and never disappoint. But how are they fulfilled? Through our weaknesses. God makes blessed those who travel the path of their inner poverty to the very end. This is the way; there is no other. Let us look to the patriarch Abraham. God promised him a great offspring, but he and Sarah are now elderly and childless. Yet it is precisely in their patient and faithful old age that God works wonders and gives them a son. Let us also look to Moses: God promises that he will free the people from slavery, and to do so he asks Moses to speak to Pharaoh. Even though Moses says he is not good with words, it is through his words that God will fulfil his promise. Let us look to Our Lady, who under the Law could not have a child, yet was called to become a mother. And let us look to Peter: he denies the Lord, yet he is the very one that Jesus calls to strengthen his brethren. Dear brothers and sisters, at times we may feel helpless and useless. We should never give in to this, because God wants to work wonders precisely through our weaknesses.

God loves to do that, and tonight, eight times, he has spoken to us the word ţūb’ā [blessed], in order to make us realize that, with him, we truly are “blessed”. Of course, we experience trials, and we frequently fall, but let us not forget that, with Jesus, we are blessed. Whatever the world takes from us is nothing compared to the tender and patient love with which the Lord fulfils his promises. Dear sister, dear brother, perhaps when you look at your hands they seem empty, perhaps you feel disheartened and unsatisfied by life. If so, do not be afraid: the Beatitudes are for you. For you who are afflicted, who hunger and thirst for justice, who are persecuted. The Lord promises you that your name is written on his heart, written in heaven! Today I thank God with you and for you, because here, where wisdom arose in ancient times, so many witnesses have arisen in our own time, often overlooked by the news, yet precious in God’s eyes. Witnesses who, by living the Beatitudes, are helping God to fulfil his promises of peace.

Pope Francis to Chaldean Catholics: ‘Love is our strength’

Rome Newsroom, Mar 6, 2021 / 08:55 am (CNA).- At Mass in Baghdad on Saturday, Pope Francis told Iraqi Christians that no matter what the world thinks, love is a strength, and it always triumphs over sin and evil.

Love, “even if it seems weak in the world’s eyes, in fact always triumphs,” the pope said March 6 at the Chaldean Catholic Cathedral of St. Joseph in Baghdad.

“Love is our strength, the source of strength for those of our brothers and sisters who here too have suffered prejudice and indignities, mistreatment and persecutions for the name of Jesus. Yet while the power, the glory and the vanity of the world pass away, love remains,” he said.



“On the cross, it proved stronger than sin, in the tomb, it vanquished death,” Francis continued. “That same love made the martyrs victorious in their trials – and how many martyrs have there been in the last century, more even than in the past!”

Pope Francis said Mass at the Chaldean Catholic cathedral in Baghdad on the second day of a three-day visit to Iraq intended to strengthen the hope of the country’s persecuted Christian minority and foster fraternity and interreligious dialogue.

Francis is the first pope in history to visit the Middle Eastern country, fulfilling a hope of St. Pope John Paul II.

In his homily, the pope reflected on the promises of God, which he said “guarantee unrivalled joy and never disappoint.”

“At times we may feel helpless and useless. We should never give in to this,” he encouraged the Chaldeans, “because God wants to work wonders precisely through our weaknesses.”

Pope Francis said “of course, we experience trials, and we frequently fall, but let us not forget that, with Jesus, we are blessed. Whatever the world takes from us is nothing compared to the tender and patient love with which the Lord fulfils his promises.”

The Chaldeans are one of several Eastern Catholic communities found in Iraq. They trace their history to the early Christians through their connection with the Church of the East. Before the population was diminished by Islamic State violence, Chaldeans made up two-thirds of Iraqi Christians.

Pope Francis also made history March 6 by being the first pope to offer Mass in the Chaldean rite. The papal Mass was said in a mix of Italian, Arabic, and the Chaldean language, which is a dialect of Aramaic.

The Prayers of the Faithful were read in Arabic, Chaldean, Kurdish, Turkmen, and English.



“Perhaps when you look at your hands they seem empty, perhaps you feel disheartened and unsatisfied by life. If so, do not be afraid: the Beatitudes are for you,” the pope said.

“For you who are afflicted, who hunger and thirst for justice, who are persecuted. The Lord promises you that your name is written on his heart, written in heaven!” he stated.

“Today I thank God with you and for you, because here, where wisdom arose in ancient times, so many witnesses have arisen in our own time, often overlooked by the news, yet precious in God’s eyes,” he continued. “Witnesses who, by living the Beatitudes, are helping God to fulfil his promises of peace.”

St. Joseph Cathedral, called Mar Yousef, was constructed in the 1950s, and restored in 2018 by Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphaël Sako.

The cathedral can seat 400, but due to COVID-19 precautions, the Mass was limited to an attendance of 180 people.

In his homily, Francis encouraged Catholics to not try to be “occasional heroes, but to become witnesses day after day.”

“Witness is the way to embody the wisdom of Jesus. That is how the world is changed: not by power and might, but by the Beatitudes. For that is what Jesus did: he lived to the end what he said from the beginning.”

He pointed to the Scripture passage in 1 Corinthians 13, which says “love is patient,” to remind Catholics that though people throughout history have been unfaithful to the covenant with God, and have fallen into the “same old sins,” the “Lord always remained faithful.”

“This patience to begin anew each time is the first quality of love,” he emphasized, encouraging them to follow the Lord’s example.



God’s witnesses are “not passive or fatalistic, at the mercy of happenings, feelings or immediate events. Instead, they are constantly hopeful, because [they are] grounded in the love that ‘bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things,’” he said.

“We can ask ourselves: how do we react to situations that are not right?” Francis said, explaining that “in the face of adversity, there are always two temptations” -- flight or anger.

But these two approaches never fixed anything, he said. “Jesus, on the other hand, changed history. How? With the humble power of love, with his patient witness. This is what we are called to do; and this is how God fulfils his promises.”

Curial speculation follows papal meetings with bishops

Vatican City, Mar 6, 2021 / 08:10 am (CNA).- Sources have told CNA that Pope Francis may choose two US-born prelates as prefects of congregations in the Roman Curia.

The two are Blase Cardinal Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, and Bishop Robert Prevost of Chiclayo. Pope Francis had a private audience with Cardinal Cupich Jan. 30, while he met Bishop Prevost March 1.

The two audiences may be part of a series of meetings Pope Francis has in view of a general reshuffle of the top Curia officials. After the retirement of Robert Cardinal Sarah as prefect of the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments, there are five congregations whose prefects have already reached and surpassed the retirement age of 75: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for the Clergy, the Congregation for the Bishops, the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, and the Congregation for Catholic Education.

In particular, Pope Francis carefully takes care of the new appointments at the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for the Clergy.

The Congregation for the Bishops establishes the new dioceses and ecclesiastical provinces and regions and the military ordinariates. The congregation also takes part in the procedure of selection and appointment of the new bishops and apostolic administrators and their coadjutor and auxiliary bishops. The congregation also watches out the dioceses' government, and organizes ad limina visits.

The Congregation for the Clergy offers assistance to the bishops in issues regarding priests and deacons of the secular clergy. It promotes religious education, and it issues norms for catechetical formation.

Currently, the Congregation for the Bishops is lead by Marc Cardinal Ouellet. Cardinal Ouellet is 76, and has led the congregation since 2010.

The Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy is Beniamino Cardinal Stella, 79, who has been at the congregation's helm since 2013.

Both of these positions could be assigned to American-born prelates.

Cardinal Cupich is considered a top candidate to become prefect of the bishops' congregation, while Bishop Prevost might be appointed in Chicago as his successor.

However, the most recent information might suggest a different scenario. Cardinal Cupich could be placed at the helm of the Congregation for the Clergy to replace Cardinal Stella.

If Cardinal Cupich were appointed at the Congregation for the Clergy, who would take the responsibility of the Congregation for the Bishops? It seems that Bishop Prevost could make it and that the pope asked availability from him to be appointed in Rome during the March 1 audience.

Bishop Prevost, 65, a canon lawyer and a member of the Order of St. Augustine, is a member of the  Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation of the Clergy; a particular choice, since Bishop Prevost is neither a metropolitan nor a cardinal.

If Pope Francis appoints both Cardinal Cupich and Bishop Prevost at the heads of congregations, the U.S. presence in the Roman Curia will be significant. Under Pope Francis, there have not been American prelates appointed at top-ranking positions so far, if we exclude Kevin Cardinal Farrell, an Irishman whose episcopal career was spent in the United States.

Pope Francis' rationale is not that of the "quota" per country in the Roman Curia. One Vatican source explained to CNA that the Pope "has a clear design in his mind, but he is likely confusing the cards in view of his final decisions."

For this reason, Pope Francis is "asking to some of his chosen one's availability to be appointed to a Vatican position," but it does not mean that "these people will cut the end."

It is noteworthy that Pope Francis also received in a personal audience on Jan. 14 Bishop Vittorio Francesco Viola, of Tortona, who according to an informed source is among the three top candidates to replace Cardinal Sarah as prefect of the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

Pope Francis intends to end his days in Rome, not Argentina, journalist clarifies

ACI Prensa Staff, Mar 6, 2021 / 07:19 am (CNA).- As some international media recently reported that Pope Francis said he did not want to visit his native Argentina again, the author of the interview with the Holy Father that was the source of that assumption clarified the context and meaning of the pope’s words.

Veteran Argentine journalist and neurologist Nelson Castro interviewed Pope Francis for his book "The Health of the Popes”.

Argentine daily La Nación published a piece by Castro Feb. 27 that included a section of his interview with the pope. The last sentence is: “I won’t return to Argentina,” which led some to assume that meant “ever.”

At the end of the interview for his book about the health of popes, Castro asked Francis “how do you imagine your death?” to which he replied “I will be pope, whether in office or emeritus. And in Rome. I won’t return to Argentina.”

In a recent interview with fellow journalist Tito Garabal on Radio Grote, Castro clarified that Pope Francis said that he would not return to Argentina "as far as coming to live (in Argentina) if he resigned, that’s how it was."

"He didn’t say 'I’m not going to visit Argentina again.' I asked him how he imagines his death in Rome and so on, he said, ‘I’m not going back to Argentina to die.’”

“This is indisputable as such. And it has two aspects: as the interview is verbatim then one wants to be as faithful as possible, so much so, and I anticipate this, that when the second edition of the book and translation come out, I’m going to introduce this clarification, because it’s called for," Castro explained.

Full text: Pope Francis’ address at an interreligious meeting in the Plain of Ur

Ur, Iraq, Mar 6, 2021 / 03:25 am (CNA).- Here is the full prepared text of Pope Francis’ address at an interreligious meeting, delivered March 6, 2021, in the Plain of Ur, Iraq.

Dear brothers and sisters, This blessed place brings us back to our origins, to the sources of God’s work, to the birth of our religions. Here, where Abraham our father lived, we seem to have returned home. It was here that Abraham heard God’s call; it was from here that he set out on a journey that would change history. We are the fruits of that call and that journey. God asked Abraham to raise his eyes to heaven and to count its stars (cf. Gen 15:5). In those stars, he saw the promise of his descendants; he saw us. Today we, Jews, Christians and Muslims, together with our brothers and sisters of other religions, honor our father Abraham by doing as he did: we look up to heaven and we journey on earth.

1. We look up to heaven. Thousands of years later, as we look up to the same sky, those same stars appear. They illumine the darkest nights because they shine together. Heaven thus imparts a message of unity: the Almighty above invites us never to separate ourselves from our neighbors. The otherness of God points us towards others, towards our brothers and sisters. Yet if we want to preserve fraternity, we must not lose sight of heaven. May we -- the descendants of Abraham and the representatives of different religions -- sense that, above all, we have this role: to help our brothers and sisters to raise their eyes and prayers to heaven. We all need this because we are not self-sufficient. Man is not omnipotent; we cannot make it on our own. If we exclude God, we end up worshiping the things of this earth. Worldly goods, which lead so many people to be unconcerned with God and others, are not the reason why we journey on earth. We raise our eyes to heaven in order to raise ourselves from the depths of our vanity; we serve God in order to be set free from enslavement to our egos, because God urges us to love. This is true religiosity: to worship God and to love our neighbor. In today’s world, which often forgets or presents distorted images of the Most High, believers are called to bear witness to his goodness, to show his paternity through our fraternity.

From this place, where faith was born, from the land of our father Abraham, let us affirm that God is merciful and that the greatest blasphemy is to profane his name by hating our brothers and sisters. Hostility, extremism and violence are not born of a religious heart: they are betrayals of religion. We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion; indeed, we are called unambiguously to dispel all misunderstandings. Let us not allow the light of heaven to be overshadowed by the clouds of hatred! Dark clouds of terrorism, war and violence have gathered over this country. All its ethnic and religious communities have suffered. In particular, I would like to mention the Yazidi community, which has mourned the deaths of many men and witnessed thousands of women, girls and children kidnapped, sold as slaves, subjected to physical violence and forced conversions. Today, let us pray for those who have endured these sufferings, for those who are still dispersed and abducted, that they may soon return home. And let us pray that freedom of conscience and freedom of religion will everywhere be recognized and  respected; these are fundamental rights, because they make us free to contemplate the heaven for which we were created.

When terrorism invaded the north of this beloved country, it wantonly destroyed part of its magnificent religious heritage, including the churches, monasteries and places of worship of various communities. Yet, even at that dark time, some stars kept shining. I think of the young Muslim volunteers of Mosul, who helped to repair churches and monasteries, building fraternal friendships on the rubble of hatred, and those Christians and Muslims who today are restoring mosques and churches together. Professor Ali Thajeel spoke too of the return of pilgrims to this city. It is important to make pilgrimages to holy places, for it is the most beautiful sign on earth of our yearning for heaven. To love and protect holy places, therefore, is an existential necessity, in memory of our father Abraham, who in various places raised to heaven altars of the Lord (cf. Gen 12:7.8; 13:18; 22:9). May the great Patriarch help us to make our respective sacred places oases of peace and encounter for all! By his fidelity to God, Abraham became a blessing for all peoples (cf. Gen 12:3); may our presence here today, in his footsteps, be a sign of blessing and hope for Iraq, for the Middle East and for the whole world. Heaven has not grown weary of the earth: God loves every people, every one of his daughters and sons! Let us never tire of looking up to heaven, of looking up to those same stars that, in his day, our father Abraham contemplated.



2. We journey on earth. For Abraham, looking up to heaven, rather than being a distraction, was an incentive to journey on earth, to set out on a path that, through his descendants, would lead to every time and place. It all started from here, with the Lord who brought him forth from Ur (cf. Gen 15:7). His was a journey outwards, one that involved sacrifices. Abraham had to leave his land, home and family. Yet by giving up his own family, he became the father of a family of peoples. Something similar also happens to us: on our own journey, we are called to leave behind those ties and attachments that, by keeping us enclosed in our own groups, prevent us from welcoming God’s boundless love and from seeing others as our brothers and sisters. We need to move beyond ourselves, because we need one another. The pandemic has made us realize that “no one is saved alone” (Fratelli tutti, 54). Still, the temptation to withdraw from others is never-ending, yet at the same time we know that “the notion of ‘every man for himself’ will rapidly degenerate into a free-for-all that would prove worse than any pandemic” (ibid., 36). Amid the tempests we are currently experiencing, such isolation will not save us. Nor will an arms race or the erection of walls that will only make us all the more distant and aggressive. Nor the idolatry of money, for it closes us in on ourselves and creates chasms of inequality that engulf humanity. Nor can we be saved by consumerism, which numbs the mind and deadens the heart.

The way that heaven points out for our journey is another: the way of peace. It demands, especially amid the tempest, that we row together on the same side. It is shameful that, while all of us have suffered from the crisis of the pandemic, especially here, where conflicts have caused so much suffering, anyone should be concerned simply for his own affairs. There will be no peace without sharing and acceptance, without a justice that ensures equity and advancement for all, beginning with those most vulnerable. There will be no peace unless peoples extend a hand to other peoples. There will be no peace as long as we see others as them and not us. There will be no peace as long as our alliances are against others, for alliances of some against others only increase divisions. Peace does not demand winners or losers, but rather brothers and sisters who, for all the misunderstandings and hurts of the past, are journeying from conflict to unity. Let us ask for this in praying for the whole Middle East. Here I think especially of neighboring war-torn Syria.

The Patriarch Abraham, who today brings us together in unity, was a prophet of the Most High. An ancient prophecy says that the peoples “shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks” (Is 2:4). This prophecy has not been fulfilled; on the contrary, swords and spears have turned into missiles and bombs. From where, then, can the journey of peace begin? From the decision not to have enemies. Anyone with the courage to look at the stars, anyone who believes in God, has no enemies to fight. He or she has only one enemy to face, an enemy that stands at the door of the heart and knocks to enter. That enemy is hatred. While some try to have enemies more than to be friends, while many seek their own profit at the expense of others, those who look at the stars of the promise, those who follow the ways of God, cannot be against someone, but for everyone. They cannot justify any form of imposition, oppression and abuse of power; they cannot adopt an attitude of belligerence.

Dear friends, is all this possible? Father Abraham, who was able to hope against all hope (cf. Rom 4:18), encourages us. Throughout history, we have frequently pursued goals that are overly worldly and journeyed on our own, but with the help of God, we can change for the better. It is up to us, today’s humanity, especially those of us, believers of all religions, to turn instruments of hatred into instruments of peace. It is up to us to appeal firmly to the leaders of nations to make the increasing proliferation of arms give way to the distribution of food for all. It is up to us to silence mutual accusations in order to make heard the cry of the oppressed and discarded in our world: all too many people lack food, medicine, education, rights and dignity! It is up to us to shed light on the shady maneuvers that revolve around money and to demand that money not end up always and only reinforcing the unbridled luxury of a few. It is up to us preserve our common home from our predatory aims. It is up to us to remind the world that human life has value for what it is and not for what it has. That the lives of the unborn, the elderly, migrants and men and women, whatever the colour of their skin or their nationality, are always sacred and count as much as the lives of everyone else! It is up to us to have the courage to lift up our eyes and look at the stars, the stars that our father Abraham saw, the stars of the promise.



The journey of Abraham was a blessing of peace. Yet it was not easy: he had to face struggles and unforeseen events. We too have a rough journey ahead, but like the great Patriarch, we need to take concrete steps, to set out and seek the face of others, to share memories, gazes and silences, stories and experiences. I was struck by the testimony of Dawood and Hasan, a Christian and a Muslim who, undaunted by the differences between them, studied and worked together. Together they built the future and realized that they are brothers. In order to move forward, we too need to achieve something good and something concrete together. This is the way, especially for young people, who must not see their dreams cut short by the conflicts of the past! It is urgent to teach them fraternity, to teach them to look at the stars. This is a real emergency; it will be the most effective vaccine for a future of peace. For you, dear young people, are our present and our future!

Only with others can the wounds of the past be healed. Rafah told us of the heroic example of Najy, from the Sabean Mandean community, who lost his life in an attempt to save the family of his Muslim neighbor. How many people here, amid the silence and indifference of the world, have embarked upon journeys of fraternity! Rafah also told us of the unspeakable sufferings of the war that forced many to abandon home and country in search of a future for their children. Thank you, Rafah, for having shared with us your firm determination to stay here, in the land of your fathers. May those who were unable to do so, and had to flee, find a kindly welcome, befitting those who are vulnerable and suffering.

It was precisely through hospitality, a distinctive feature of these lands, that Abraham was visited by God and given the gift of a son, when it seemed that all hope was past (cf. Gen 18:1-10). Brothers and sisters of different religions, here we find ourselves at home, and from here, together, we wish to commit ourselves to fulfilling God’s dream that the human family may become hospitable and welcoming to all his children; that looking up to the same heaven, it will journey in peace on the same earth. 

Photographs in text courtesy of Vatican Media.