This morning as I got ready for Mass, I watched the Pope meet with people in the midst of a ruined Mosul. Where just a few years ago ISIS was killing and destroying, today people gathered to pray with Pope Francis. Light entered where darkness had spread. The Pope echoed his strong condemnation of the use of violence and terrorism for religious purposes.
I watched the Pope drive through the streets of the Christian community of Qaraqosh and heard him speak at the crowded Church of the Immaculate Conception. The parish priest recounted how he abandoned the city with about 500 Chaldean Catholic families when ISIS took over, and that he has now returned with only 70 families. I can imagine many of the displaced Christians wonder wherever they live now, “if the Pope can safely visit my home country, maybe then I can return to live there.” The Pope’s presence is not only strengthening the faith of the Christians in Iraq, but also inviting the displaced to return home so that these ancient Christian communities may survive into the future.
As I arrived to Holy Family Church in Metter, Georgia for 9am Mass, I saw the picture of Pope Francis in the small narthex of the parish. I was struck with this thought: I belong to the same flock under Pope Francis that the faithful who have suffered terribly in Iraq belong to – there is an intimate relationship, and we all look to the same Pope for unity in the faith. The presence of the Successor of Saint Peter reminds us that the faith is truly universal, and that we are all made one in Jesus Christ through our common baptism and the Eucharist. The presence of Pope Francis in Iraq is a clear and strong reminder for all of us – we cannot be indifferent to the pains and sorrows of fellow Christians half a world away. Their pain is our pain. Their joy is our joy.
Whether in the middle of South Georgia or in Northern Iraq, we all belong to the one flock of Jesus the Good Shepherd.
The journey of Pope Francis to Iraq will bring about much fruit. Recalling the warning of Pope John Paul II in 2003, and now seeking Pope Francis in Mosul, it feels as though we have gone full circle. The Church warned of evils to come, and now the Church is still there to console and strengthen after evil was unleashed.
We pray for the thousands who have lost their lives, among them my classmate Father Michel Kayal who was kidnapped in Syria by rebels in 2013, and a graduate of my Alma Mater (the Angelicum in Rome), Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni, who was killed in Mosul in 2007. I once attended Mass in the Chaldean Rite at the Irish College of Rome where Father Ganni officiated the Mass. Many of my professors knew him well, so the news of his death hit close to home.
My prayer is that Pope Francis’ presence will strengthen the faithful in their faith according to the words of Jesus to Peter, “I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers”.
(AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)