By Barbara Castelli
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, arrived in Iraq on Monday and will be there until Friday. Bishop Shlemon Warduni, auxiliary bishop of Baghdad told Vatican News that his visit is a very welcome one, “especially in these days in which we recall the birth of the Saviour”.
Cardinal Parolin’s schedule
While in Iraq, Cardinal Parolin will meet members of the Iraqi government and representatives of the Oriental Churches. He concelebrated the Christmas Vigil Mass with the Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, Cardinal Louis Raphaël I Sako, at the Chaldean Cathedral of Saint Joseph in the Karrada district. Cardinal Parolin is also scheduled to visit the Syrian Catholic Church of Our Lady of Salvation. There in 2010, a terrorist commando killed dozens of faithful and two priests. The Cardinal will also visit other places symbolic of Baghdad as well as charitable organizations.
On 26 December, Cardinal Pietro Parolin will go to Erbil, where he will meet representatives of the government of the autonomous province of Iraqi Kurdistan. From there he will depart for a visit to the Nineveh Plain and celebrate Holy Mass in the town of Qaraqosh.
Christians are leaving the Middle East
Prior to Cardinal Parolin’s arrival, Bishop Shlemon Warduni pointed out that Cardinal Parolin’s visit represents a sign of encouragement for all Christians in Iraq, a presence that unfortunately is becoming increasingly smaller. “Almost a million Christians have left Iraq – a nation that has seen the presence of Christians for over two thousand years”, he explained. The bishop denounced the force at work to "empty the Middle East of Christians". At the same time, he points out that the small Christian community “trusts in the Lord Jesus” and derives “the strength to stay”, from Him in tune with the will of the Heavenly Father.
Iraqis await peace and a visit from Pope Francis
In a world torn by wars, where “distance from God” is obvious, “where immorality increases” and only “money is sought”, the auxiliary bishop of Baghdad hopes that the love of the Child Jesus will enlighten men and women’s hearts. He acknowledged that many steps forward have been taken in Iraq and that the situation has improved. But the full peace to which all Iraqis aspire is still lacking. “We will pray together with Cardinal Parolin”, Bishop Warduni concluded. “He will bring us the blessing of the Holy Father”. He said Christians in Iraq await the moment when they can welcome Pope Francis to Iraq soon.