By Devin Watkins
In a letter sent to Franciscan friars in Syria, Pope Francis expressed his closeness to the “martyred land of Syria.”
“I wish to share in your sufferings and tell you that I am close to you and to the Christian communities which are so tried by the pain experienced in their faith in Christ Jesus.”
The Pope’s letter was addressed to Fathers Hanna Jallouf and Louai Bsharat, OFM.
Pope Francis reflected on the great suffering, poverty, and pain that Jesus experiences in the Syrian people. “It is Jesus! This is a mystery. It is our Christian mystery. In you and in the inhabitants of our beloved Syria, we see Jesus suffering.”
Pope Francis compared their sufferings to martyrdom. “Nothing more than martyrdom can mark the Christian’s way of participating in humanity’s salvation history.”
He said martyrs advance the Kingdom of God and “sow Christians for the future.”
Calling them “the true glory of the Church and our hope”, the Holy Father said the witness of martyrs is “a warning not to get lost even in the midst of the storm.”
“Not a few times the sea of life has a storm awaiting us, but out of the existential waves we receive an unexpected sign of salvation: Mary, the Mother of the Lord, looking in astonishment and silence at the innocent, crucified Son who fills life and salvation with meaning.”
Pain into hope
Pope Francis assured the Franciscan friars stationed in Syria that he remembers them constantly during Mass and prays that their “unspeakable pain” may be transformed into divine hope.
He then quoted Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us.”
Finally, Pope Francis prayed that the Virgin Mary guard the Franciscans in Syria “under her Cloak of Grace” and that she intercede for them to receive “the gift of perseverance.”