Rome Newsroom, Mar 6, 2021 / 08:55 am (CNA).- At Mass in Baghdad on Saturday, Pope Francis told Iraqi Christians that no matter what the world thinks, love is a strength, and it always triumphs over sin and evil.
Love, “even if it seems weak in the world’s eyes, in fact always triumphs,” the pope said March 6 at the Chaldean Catholic Cathedral of St. Joseph in Baghdad.
“Love is our strength, the source of strength for those of our brothers and sisters who here too have suffered prejudice and indignities, mistreatment and persecutions for the name of Jesus. Yet while the power, the glory and the vanity of the world pass away, love remains,” he said.
“On the cross, it proved stronger than sin, in the tomb, it vanquished death,” Francis continued. “That same love made the martyrs victorious in their trials – and how many martyrs have there been in the last century, more even than in the past!”
Pope Francis said Mass at the Chaldean Catholic cathedral in Baghdad on the second day of a three-day visit to Iraq intended to strengthen the hope of the country’s persecuted Christian minority and foster fraternity and interreligious dialogue.
Francis is the first pope in history to visit the Middle Eastern country, fulfilling a hope of St. Pope John Paul II.
In his homily, the pope reflected on the promises of God, which he said “guarantee unrivalled joy and never disappoint.”
“At times we may feel helpless and useless. We should never give in to this,” he encouraged the Chaldeans, “because God wants to work wonders precisely through our weaknesses.”
Pope Francis said “of course, we experience trials, and we frequently fall, but let us not forget that, with Jesus, we are blessed. Whatever the world takes from us is nothing compared to the tender and patient love with which the Lord fulfils his promises.”
The Chaldeans are one of several Eastern Catholic communities found in Iraq. They trace their history to the early Christians through their connection with the Church of the East. Before the population was diminished by Islamic State violence, Chaldeans made up two-thirds of Iraqi Christians.
Pope Francis also made history March 6 by being the first pope to offer Mass in the Chaldean rite. The papal Mass was said in a mix of Italian, Arabic, and the Chaldean language, which is a dialect of Aramaic.
The Prayers of the Faithful were read in Arabic, Chaldean, Kurdish, Turkmen, and English.
“Perhaps when you look at your hands they seem empty, perhaps you feel disheartened and unsatisfied by life. If so, do not be afraid: the Beatitudes are for you,” the pope said.
“For you who are afflicted, who hunger and thirst for justice, who are persecuted. The Lord promises you that your name is written on his heart, written in heaven!” he stated.
“Today I thank God with you and for you, because here, where wisdom arose in ancient times, so many witnesses have arisen in our own time, often overlooked by the news, yet precious in God’s eyes,” he continued. “Witnesses who, by living the Beatitudes, are helping God to fulfil his promises of peace.”
St. Joseph Cathedral, called Mar Yousef, was constructed in the 1950s, and restored in 2018 by Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphaël Sako.
The cathedral can seat 400, but due to COVID-19 precautions, the Mass was limited to an attendance of 180 people.
In his homily, Francis encouraged Catholics to not try to be “occasional heroes, but to become witnesses day after day.”
“Witness is the way to embody the wisdom of Jesus. That is how the world is changed: not by power and might, but by the Beatitudes. For that is what Jesus did: he lived to the end what he said from the beginning.”
He pointed to the Scripture passage in 1 Corinthians 13, which says “love is patient,” to remind Catholics that though people throughout history have been unfaithful to the covenant with God, and have fallen into the “same old sins,” the “Lord always remained faithful.”
“This patience to begin anew each time is the first quality of love,” he emphasized, encouraging them to follow the Lord’s example.
God’s witnesses are “not passive or fatalistic, at the mercy of happenings, feelings or immediate events. Instead, they are constantly hopeful, because [they are] grounded in the love that ‘bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things,’” he said.
“We can ask ourselves: how do we react to situations that are not right?” Francis said, explaining that “in the face of adversity, there are always two temptations” — flight or anger.
But these two approaches never fixed anything, he said. “Jesus, on the other hand, changed history. How? With the humble power of love, with his patient witness. This is what we are called to do; and this is how God fulfils his promises.”
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