Although it took obvious effort to pronounce each word and sometimes his secretary repeated what…
Pope Francis shined a light on Iraqi Christians, but how will we respond?
One year ago, while prudently and charitably trying to keep people safe, we started on a path of unintentionally giving the impression that religion is not essential. In his apostolic journey to Iraq, Pope Francis did many things, and chief among them was to make clear: Religion is absolutely essential.
And Christianity is meant to be a leaven. And look how the Christians of Iraq show us that!
He went as a pilgrim, he made clear. Ever since the earliest days of his pontificate, he has talked about how there are more persecuted Christians in the world now than in the early Church. He has prayed and spoken out against the ISIS genocide that dwindled the Christian population of Iraq, which has been home to Christianity since the beginning. Too few Americans realize it.
And, you may recall, the United States unintentionally has played a role in their plight.
If you haven’t, I recommend you make the same pilgrimage. I woke up early and stayed as glued to Vatican Media’s English stream as much as I could. Watch a little of it, or read some of the texts of his homilies and addresses. He went there for the Iraqi people, but it is the Iraqi people who make us better Christians.
They have had to choose Christ in a harrowing context. Even as we have suffered many anxieties over the coronavirus this past year, how many of us have had to choose conversion to Islam, death or fleeing our homes?
On the last day of his trip, Pope Francis celebrated an evening Mass out in the open in Erbil. The Archdiocese of Erbil is the field hospital he has said the Church is meant to be, since his earliest days pope. They took in people who had to flee Mosul and made a home for them. They even set up a Catholic university to give the faithful hope that there can be a future for them and their families in Iraq. In the background at the pope’s Mass, as Communion was being distributed, we saw the magnificent pastels of the setting sun. Even the sky was replete with hope! A new day can dawn in Iraq, but it is all in the follow-up.
Will Catholics focus on and stay involved in the lives of our brothers and sisters and Christ in Iraq? Will we pray for them? Will we support them? Have we even paid attention to our Holy Father’s trip there? I know there were Meghan and Harry and Oprah the same weekend. Imagine if some 17 million Americans who watched that paid attention to the plight of the persecuted Church.
And consider this: Pope Francis in Iraq was absolutely about Iraq and the persecuted Christians. But it was about you and me, too — and not just the role America has had to play in Iraq.
I found especially moving when Pope Francis said this at the Syro-Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad: “We know how easy it is to be infected by the virus of discouragement that at times seems to spread all around us. Yet the Lord has given us an effective vaccine against that nasty virus. It is the hope born of persevering prayer and daily fidelity to our apostolates. With this vaccine, we can go forth with renewed strength, to share the joy of the Gospel as missionary disciples and living signs of the presence of God’s kingdom of holiness, justice and peace.”
I dare say that most of us can relate to this, especially after the last year we’ve been through. And Pope Francis had pressure to not go to Iraq for both security and coronavirus issues. But he said faith is more important than fear. The continued existence of Christianity in Iraq is far from a given, and Pope Francis gave them a boost at a critical moment.
What will we do to help with the follow-through? Prayer, education, insisting on the good of Church and government and other entities. The Body of Christ has some work to do.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.