Below is a ZENIT working translation of Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin’s, homily during the Holy Mass on Christmas Eve in the Chaldean Cathedral of Baghdad:
His Beatitude Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans,
Dear Bishops and Priests,
Mister President of the Republic,
Distinguished Authorities and Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ.
I greet you all with great affection, also in the name of the Holy Father Francis, and I thank God, who gives me the joy to celebrate the Lord’s birth with you, in this your country, rich in biblical references and history; in this your city so beautiful and tried; in this your Cathedral dedicated to the Patriarch Saint Joseph, who from the Crib, together with his wife, Mary, gazes on us with love and tenderness.
It’s Christmas Eve! A night bathed in light, which year after year, coming also as other nights, is always totally new. A night as the many other sleepless nights of the People of the Covenant, as the many sleepless nights of your families, who in these years have gone through the harsh test of suffering; however, at the same time, <it is> a different night because the announcement becomes a reality, the promises are fulfilled” “For I know the plans I have for you — says the Lord — plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). Manifested at Christmas are the goodness and humanity of God Our Saviour (Cf. Timothy 2:11) . . . Behold peace — comments Saint Bernard — not promised but sent, not deferred but given, not prophesied but present” Discourse 1 for Epiphany).
The biblical readings we have just heard surprise us by their timeliness, by the correspondence between their contents and our daily living. The prophet Isaiah presents us a people that experiences social and economic conditions marked by fragility, instability, the absence of hope and fear in face of the future. And it is precisely in such a situation, humanly without a way out, that the happy announcement resounds: “The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light: on those that dwelt in a dark land a light has shone” (9:1). The prophet is aware that this intense and dazzling light doesn’t come form men, but that it comes form God: it is the light of God that envelops men, it penetrates to the depth of their heart, illumines them and makes them experience joy and peace: “You have multiplied joy, You have increased happiness (9:2).
It is only God who can give peace and joy that aren’t ephemeral, reinforcing and consolidating them with law and justice! He does so every day: what is the courage to face life daily in its beautiful sides and, especially, in its dark sides? What sort of faith is it to look forward and to hope against all hope (Cf. Romans 4:18), which manifests itself where there is no more hope, where there is no longer anything to hope for, precisely as happened to Abraham, in face of his imminent death and his wife Sarah’s sterility. What sort of love is it that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (Cf. 1 Corinthians 13:7), and which makes us live as brothers, in communion, which makes us capable of receiving all persons with their limitations and their good points, as Jesus did, who received all persons who went to Him and wanted to follow Him, paying particular attention to the sick and the elderly, to the poor and the needy? What is all this? It’s the manifestation, the concretization of joy and peace, which the Divine Child brings as gifts to all those that receive Him with an open, simple and humble heart.
By giving us joy and peace the incarnate Son of God responds to the most intimate and profound expectations of every human heart. He Angels sing it on the night of Bethlehem: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14). The peace proclaimed by the angelic choir is not the peace the world gives, as Jesus would repeat during the Last Supper, the night before His Passion: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27). It’s not even the peace that is obtained with arms and military victory, or with the interests of the global economy. It’s the peace of God, a peace that reflects His love to us; a peace that manifests itself as the capacity to want the true good of others, overcoming what Pope Francis calls the “disposable culture” and the “culture of indifference”; a peace that is able to see in the other a brother to love and to help even when he shows himself our enemy; a peace that passes through the purification of the language of every expression of hatred and violence and <stands> for the reconciliation of minds and hearts: ”Give light to minds, infuse peace in hearts” sings the very famous Christmas song Stille nacht, which was composed exactly two hundred years ago in Austria, and which has spread throughout the world, I think also with you.
In his Urbi et Orbi message of Christmas 2016, Pope Francis said “The power of this Child, Son of God and of Mary, isn’t the power of this world, based on force and wealth. It is the power of love. It is the power that regenerates life, which forgives faults; reconciles enemies; transforms evil into good. It is God’s power (…). It’s the power of service, which establishes the Kingdom of God in the world, a Kingdom of justice and peace.” In fact the contrary of what we men think – and, we must admit it, we also think it — who see glory in strength, in success, in superiority to others, in dominion over them.
To live Christmas is to receive the power of this Child and to let Him transform us from within. To live Christmas is to accept to change ourselves and to lead a new life, transfigured by love. It’s a grace and an invitation to translate into words and into concrete acts the beauty of the divine light that comes from the Bethlehem cave. As individuals and as communities, Christians and Muslims — because Christmas is a celebration for all, in which the message is accessible to all — we are called to illuminate the darkness of fear and of non-sense, of irresponsibility and of hatred, with words and acts of light, scattering with full hands seeds of peace, of truth, of justice, of freedom and of love. Let us live in a spirit of humility, of respect of the other; let us accept persons in their diversity, not using such differences to pit ourselves against one another, but discovering in them a possibility for common enrichment. What unites and binds us to one another is greater than what separates us. The joy and peace of Christmas are not a privilege to hold tightly for ourselves, but a gift to share with others and to live as responsibility in the building of a future of fraternity and concord.
Christians are women and men that, despite difficulties, contradictions and, sometimes, even rejection and violence, remain anchored in God and put all their trust in Him. A God who in Jesus made Himself our brother, our road companion! See then how Christmas becomes an invitation to hope, which is hope for all, also for the inhabitants of Iraq. It’s a hope that enables us to always begin again, also after the difficulties and the pain suffered in these years.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Be certain that the Holy Father Francis is close to you, bears you in his heart and always prays for you. We are grateful to you for your witness, which has become a living example for all Christians of the world. Remain firm in faith and in love and become increasingly builders of a world of fraternity and peace, reinforced by the light of the Child born for us and for our salvation. May Mary, our Mother teach us to protect the treasure of Christmas in our heart, with prayer and meditation. I wish you all and your beloved country the gifts of Christmas: may the announcement of this night bathed in splendid light fill you with peace and joy! Amen.
[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]