Pope Francis' personal envoy to Iraq will return to the country during Holy Week, bringing with him the pontiff's love and solidarity along with a special gift from the diocese of Rome: cake. “During Holy Week, which is now close, these families are sharing with Christ the unjust violence of which they are victims, and participating in the pain of the same Christ,” a March 27 statement from the Vatican read. Cardinal Fernando Filoni, head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, traveled to Erbil as Pope Francis' personal envoy in August of last year. He returns to Iraq in order to “stand beside the families” who have been forced out of their homes due to extremist violence. With the funds taken up from a special collection, the families of the diocese of Rome will also show their solidarity with those suffering in Iraq by sending an Easter cake “to share the joy of Easter” based on faith in the Resurrection of Christ. The gift being offered to refugee families is a traditional Italian sweet baked during Easter called a “Colomba” cake, which is formed in the shape of a dove. In order not to “forget the suffering of the families in Northern Nigeria,” Pope Francis has also sent the cakes as a gift to those affected by extremist violence in the region by way of the local bishops’ conference. Pope Francis, the statement added, prays for these families “and hopes they can return and resume their lives in the lands and places where, for hundreds of years, they have lived and woven good relationships with all.” The capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, Erbil, is where more than 70,000 Christians fled after their villages came under attack by the Islamic State (ISIS) last June. The militants have since established a caliphate and have persecuted non-Sunnis in its territory, which extends across swaths of Iraq and Syria. ISIS has forced more than 1.2 million Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims from their homes in Iraq, under threat of death or heavy fines if they do not convert. In an interview with CNA shortly after his return from Iraq last August, Cardinal Filoni revealed that at that time, Francis had given $1 million as a personal contribution to help Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq who had been forced from their homes. Of that sum, “75 percent of the money was delivered to Catholics, and the remaining 25 percent to the Yazidi community,” he said. The cardinal also recounted that the Pope had entrusted him with letters for Kurdish president Masoud Barzani and Iraqi president Fuad Masum, presenting him “as his personal envoy and expressing his concern for what Christians and minorities in general are suffering, because they have been uprooted from their lands and persecuted.” Pope Francis has spoken out numerous times assuring his closeness and solidarity to those affected by extremist violence in both the Middle East and Iraq. In November, Francis visited a Salesian Oratory for refugee children during his three-day trip to Turkey, during which he which he told the youths that he shared in their sufferings, and prayed that God would offer them consolation. The day before Christmas, the Pope wrote a letter to Christians in the Middle East recognizing that although their Christmas hymns would be “accompanied by tears,” the Child Jesus offers consolation. “How much longer must the Middle East suffer from the lack of peace? We must not resign ourselves to conflicts as if change were not possible!” he said, also calling for an increase in efforts for unity and interreligious dialogue. When the announcement of Cardinal Filoni’s first trip to Iraq was made in an Aug. 8 statement from the Vatican last year, it was noted that his presence among the refugees was a sign for them of the Pope’s “spiritual closeness to the people who suffer and to bring them the solidarity of the Church.”
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