Below is a ZENIT working translation of Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin’s, homily during the Holy Mass on the Solemnity of the Lord’s Birth in the Latin Cathedral of Baghdad:
His Most Reverend Excellency, Monsignor Jean Sleiman, Archbishop of Baghdad of the Latins,
Most Reverend Bishops and Priests,
Distinguished Authorities and Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
I’m very happy to celebrate with you the Solemnity of the Lord’s Birth. I wish, first of all, to bring you, Iraqi Christians and to this beloved country, the paternal greetings and Blessing of the Holy Father Francis, and to manifest to you the closeness of the Church spread throughout the world.
“A holy day has dawned for us, all of you come to adore the Lord, today a splendid light has descended upon earth,” sings the Liturgy, filling our mind and our heart with exultance, joy and hope. Why? Because, in fact, “a splendid light has descended upon earth,” the splendid light is Jesus Christ Son of God made man, the Emmanuel, the God-with-us, the Prince of Peace. Today we celebrate His birth in time from Mary’s virginal womb.
There comes to us, as to the people of Israel who were in exile, the happy news, the word of consolation, the announcement of salvation: “Your God reigns” (Isaiah 52:7). Let us allow ourselves to be surprised once again by this Good News!
We are used to hearing bad news. Difficulties abound in the whole world; the challenges multiply and become increasingly complex. During the last years you have lived in your country and in your region the tragic and unjust experience of violence and terrorism, you have suffered so much, together with all your countrymen.
Precisely because of this we are in need of receiving the Good News of Christmas. As the author of the Letter to the Hebrews reminded us, God Himself, who in ancient times accompanied His Chosen People with tenderness and spoke through the prophets, willed to speak definitively to us through His Son (Cf. 1:102). It’s not an abstract but a very concrete Word: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). It is a word of love, a word of reconciliation, a word of peace!
The Word, Verbo, is a term used to express what gives consistency to the whole of reality, which gives meaning to everything, which illumines and gives life. It is what we are in need of and which all men desire.
This Word, this Verbo was made flesh, He became one of us. This is the Good News of Christmas, it’s the Good News that the Angel announced to the shepherds, as we heard in the midnight Mass: “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of the great joy which will come to all the people; for you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
The real and tangible sign of this announcement is the Child wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. It’s a sign that challenges our human logic, our criteria. The grandeur of God and His power are revealed in the smallness and in the apparent weakness of a Child. What a great lesson! We receive everything from Him. ”And from His fullness have we all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16).
Let us allow ourselves to be transformed by the presence of this Child. The birth of the Son of God changes everything; it makes our life new. The Saviour of the world comes to assume our human nature: we are no longer alone and abandoned. God is with us; He is close. As Pope Benedict XVI said: “God isn’t far from us, unknown, enigmatic, perhaps dangerous. God is close to us, so close that He makes Himself a child and we can speak familiarly with this God” (Homily of the 4th Sunday of Advent, December 8, 2005).
In this Child we contemplate God’s mercy and His infinite love for us. In face of the deafness and the rejection of many, we want to receive this Good News; we want to receive Jesus in our hearts. “But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave the power to become children of God” (John 1:12).
Let us allow ourselves to be touched by God’s tenderness, which saves us. Let us approach God who comes close to us. Let us live with gratitude the true spirit of Christmas: the beauty of being loved by God. May His presence transform us from within, to live as His true children and to have the experience of the new life that He has brought us: a life of love, of forgiveness, of respect of the other, of peace and of concord.
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
May the mystery of Christmas spur you to offer generously your contribution to this country that you love, to this society to which you belong as full members and to the whole world. May your presence as Christians here, in your land, and in the Middle East continue to be Jesus’ presence; you have an important mission, an irreplaceable mission. Be architects of reconciliation and peace, witnesses of love and forgiveness, of communion and fraternity, of a life of service and charity, as source of goodness and blessing for all.
I exhort you to continue to live your membership in the Church and your mission with generosity and gratitude, with trust and hope, in this land where the history of salvation began, which continues today through you. It’s a history marked by tribulations and pain, but never lacking God’s fidelity and support. Be certain also that the Holy Father Francis is close to you, keeps you in his heart and always prays for you. Thank you for your testimony of faith, tested also by suffering and martyrdom. This testimony was and continues to be a treasure for the whole Church. Remain firm in the faith and in love.
I wish you all and your beloved country a Happy Christmas: may the joy and peace of Christ descend upon you for a future of fraternity for all. May Mary, Our Mother, rescuer, helper and comforter of Christians, accompany us with her tenderness and sustain us in hope. So be it.[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]