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'The Church in Iraq is alive': Pope Francis at Mass in Erbil

At the conclusion of his Apostolic Journey to Iraq, Pope Francis celebrates Sunday Mass with the Iraqi faithful in Erbil’s Franso Hariri Stadium.

By Christopher Wells

“Today, I can see at first hand that the Church in Iraq is alive, and that Christ is alive and at work in this, His holy and faithful people,” Pope Francis said in his Homily during the concluding Mass for his Apostolic Journey to Iraq.

The Holy Father based his homily on a passage from St Paul: “Christ, the power and wisdom of God.” Jesus, he said, “revealed that power and wisdom above all by offering forgiveness and showing mercy.”

Pope Francis during the Mass in Erbil
Pope Francis during the Mass in Erbil

Too often, we “fall into the trap of thinking that we have to show others that we are powerful or wise” the Pope said. Suffering from “wounds of war and violence” we are tempted to react “with human power, human wisdom.” “Yet the truth is that all of us need the power and wisdom of God revealed by Jesus on the Cross,” said Pope Francis.

Cleansing the temple of our heart

Turning to Sunday’s Gospel reading, which tells how the Lord drove the moneychangers out of the Temple, Pope Francis said God the Father sent Jesus to cleanse not only the Temple built of stone, “but above all, the temple of our hearts.” Our hearts, he said, must be cleansed “of the falsehoods that stain them, from hypocritical duplicity,” of “deceptive securities”; of “baneful temptations of power and money.”

But we cannot cleanse our hearts by our own effort, the Pope said. Instead, it is “Jesus Christ, He alone, [who] can cleanse us of the works of evil… He has the power to conquer our evils, to heal our diseases, and to rebuild the temple of our heart.”

Signs of Christ’s Kingdom

Pope Francis continued, saying, “Jesus not only cleanses us of our sins, but gives us a share in His own power and wisdom.” Jesus, he said, frees us from “narrow and divisive notions of family, faith and community” to build an inclusive Church and society that cares for our brothers and sisters in need.

At the same time, Jesus “strengthens us to resist the temptation to seek revenge,” and sends us forth, “not as proselytizers, but as missionary disciples, men and women to testify to the life-changing power of the Gospel.”

When He promises to raise up the Temple after three days, the Pope said, Jesus is not talking only of his own bodily Resurrection, “but of the Church as well.” The Lord, he said, “promises us that, by the power of the resurrection, He can raise us, and our communities, from the ruins left by injustice, division, and hatred.”

Jesus, said Pope Francis, “wants to anoint every hurt, to heal every painful memory, and to inspire a future of peace and fraternity in this land.”

Confirming Iraqi Christians in their faith

Turning to the Iraqi Christian community, the Holy Father concluded his homily, saying, “The Church in Iraq, by God’s grace, is already doing much to proclaim this wonderful wisdom of the Cross by spreading Christ’s mercy and forgiveness, particularly towards those in greatest need.”

Pope Francis greets the faithful
Pope Francis greets the faithful

This, the Pope said, “is one of the reasons that led me to come as a pilgrim in your midst, to thank you and to confirm you in your faith and witness.”

Pope blesses statue of Mary

Due to coronavirus health and safety measures, about 10,000 people were present in Erbil's Franso Hariri Stadium for Sunday's Eucharistic Liturgy, with tens of thousands more following along thanks to the various means of social communication, including radio, television, and the internet. 

At the conclusion of the Eucharistic liturgy, Pope Francis blessed a statue of the Virgin Mary that had been vandalized by Islamic State militants. The head and hands of the statue had been cut off, but the head was later recovered and reattached.

Father Samir Sheer, director of Radio Mariam in Erbil, explained that the statue originally came from the Christian village of Karamles. "After the blessing," he said, "the statue will return to the Nineveh Plain. The hope of local Christians is that Our Lady will soon return to embrace her children in Karamles."

Watch the Holy Mass in Erbil
07 March 2021, 15:01