In a video message delivered to the displaced Iraqi Christians on Saturday, Pope Francis decried the suffering experienced by those persecuted for their faith, while expressing his gratitude for their witness. “I thank you for the witness you give,” he said Dec. 6. “There is great suffering in your witness. Thank you!” Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon brought the video message to Erbil, where tens of thousands of Christians displaced from Mosul and the Nineveh plains have taken refuge after having been driven from their homes by the Islamic State. Nearly 2 million people have been internally displaced since the militant Sunni Islamist group began its offensive throughout northern Iraq this summer. The archbishop, along with 100 faithful from Lyon, arrived in Erbil Dec. 5 for a two-day visit. “I think of the tears, the sorrows of the mothers with their children, of the elderly and the displaced, of the the wounded,” who are victims “of every kind of violence,” the Pope said. Pope Francis repeated his concern expressed during his recent visit to Turkey for those who “still suffer, inhuman violence due to their ethnic religious identity” at the hands of extremist and fundamentalist groups. Christians and Yazidis, among others, “are forcibly expelled from their houses, have had to abandon everything to save their own lives and not renounce the faith.” As religious leaders, Pope Francis stressed, “we have the obligation to condemn all violations against dignity and human rights!” St. Therese of Lisieux, the Pope reflected, compared both herself and the Church to a reed which bends in the wind and the storm, but does not break. “You are, in this moment, this reed,” the Pope said. “You bend with pain, but you have the strength to carry your faith forward,” thereby giving witness. “You are God's reeds today! The reeds which bend over in this ferocious wind, but then rise up!” Pope Francis expressed his gratitude, praying to the Holy Spirit “who makes everything new, giving each and every one of you strength and resistance.” Pope Francis called for “a major international convergence” to resolve “the conflicts which stain your countries of origin with blood, to oppose other causes which force people to leave their homeland, and to promote conditions whereby they can remain or return.” “Dear brothers and sisters, you are in my heart, in my prayers,” as well as that of “the whole Christian community,” said the Pope to the people from Mosul. He has asked the faithful to pray to Our Lady for the suffering Christians in Iraq on Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. “She is mother, who protects you.” “Your resistance is martyrdom,” he said, “dew which bares fruit.” Pope Francis concluded his message by asking for prayers.
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