Pope Francis condemns terror, reaches out to Iraqi Christians

Pope Francis on Wednesday found two ways of expressing his concern for the victims of terrorism, condemning the Brussels attacks and sending both personal and financial support to Iraqi Christians menaced by ISIS. 

“I once again appeal to all people of good will to unite in the unanimous condemnation of these cruel abominations that are causing only death, terror, and horror,” Pope Francis said during his Wednesday general audience, referring to the terrorist incidents in the Belgian capital on Tuesday. Two separate attacks in Brussels, involving three explosions that took the lives of 34 victims. ISIS forces claimed responsibility. 

“I ask everyone to persevere in prayer and to ask the Lord in this Holy Week to comfort the hearts afflicted and convert the hearts of these people blinded by this cruel fundamentalism,” Francis said. 

Meanwhile, the pontiff also dispatched a set of sacred vestments and an undisclosed financial contribution to Iraq, entrusting the gifts to a delegation organized by the Catholic organization Aid to the Church in Need, which works to support the victims of anti-Christian persecution. 

The delegation will visit Iraqi Kurdistan April 1-4, shortly after the celebration of Easter, and will include several prominent Italian bishops and clergy. 

Francis also provided a letter of support for Aid to the Church in Need, describing it as “an initiative that expresses friendship, ecclesial communion and closeness to many brothers and sisters whose situation of affliction and tribulation saddens me deeply and invites us to defend the inalienable right of every person to freely profess his or her own faith.” 

In the letter, the pope insists on “not forgetting the drama of persecution,” and says that “the witness of courageous and patient faith of so many disciples of Christ represents a call to the entire Church to rediscover the fertile source of the Easter mystery, from which comes energy, strength and light for a new humanism.” 

“Mercy calls us to move toward these brothers to dry their tears, cure their physical and moral wounds, console their broken and maybe lost hearts,” he said. “It’s not simply a dutiful act of charity, but a form of care of one’s own body, because all Christians, by virtue of their baptism, are ‘one’ in Christ.” 

According to Bishop Francesco Cavina, who will be part of the delegation, the decision to provide vestments and financial support was a personal choice of the pontiff, rather than a response to a request from the group. 

“As soon as the Holy Father knew about my trip together with Aid to the Church in Need, he phoned me expressing the desire to send a gift to our Iraqi brothers in the faith,” Cavina said. Almost a half-million Assyrians and Chaldeans have been displaced by ISIS-driven violence in Iraq, with a disproportionate share being Christians. 

One estimate holds that although Christians represent just 5 percent of the Iraqi population, they make up 40 percent of Iraqi refugees living in neighboring nations.

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