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 Syro-Catholic Cathedral of Baghdad, Iraq:
Holy Mass on Christmas Eve — Syro-Catholic Cathedral of Baghdad
His Most Reverend Excellency, Monsignor Yousif Abba,
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
I give you all here present my most affectionate greeting, also in the name of the Holy Father Francis, who has asked me to transmit to you his Apostolic Blessing together with the assurance of his daily remembrance in prayer.
I am very grateful to God for the grace that He grants me to celebrate the Solemnity of Christmas this year with your community, which in the past has been profoundly marked by suffering and pain, but has also known God’s visit and experienced His consolation, which has render even firmer the bonds with Him. Indelible within the walls of this Cathedral remains the memory of the witness of our brothers and sisters, your beloved relatives and friends who, together with two priests, Thair and Wasim, lost their life, because of their faith, in the terrorist attack of 2010, sign of the hatred and violence that continues to afflict our times. However, in the drama of human history the love of God breaks in, who never lets Himself be overcome by men’s evil. He enters to dissipate the darkness with His light and to give a new beginning, as He continues to do here and now, on this holy and glorious night.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14).
We took part in the beautiful and significant celebration of fire, which, from the center of the church, emanates light and warmth on us all. It’s God’s presence that warms our hearts, which transforms and transfigures us to be increasingly in His image and likeness; it is His Word made flesh that illumines and reinforces our path, rendering us heralds and witnesses.
God made Himself man; He entered our history to direct our steps on the way of salvation. He took upon Himself our weakness, to overcome evil, pain, fear and death. As Christians, as bearers of His light, we are invited to be witnesses of the humility of Him who “though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
From the mystery we are celebrating on this holy night of light, in which the Saviour is born, we are called to glimpse in the darkness of our history the novelty that comes to us, and the beginning of a renewed humanity.
“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots” (Isaiah 11:1). God’s Promise was fulfilled at the appointed time. But today, in our time, it still finds fulfilment. “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by a Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Assured to us today is the fidelity of God, who fulfils His promises, also when it seems that all is sterile and without a future. Sometimes we can also recognize ourselves in the image of the stump of Jesse, with profound roots but without a future. Your community has profound roots in this land and it goes back to the dawn of Christianity. <It has> a long history with its moments of glory and holiness and with its periods of suffering and darkness. However, when everything seems lost, God’s powerful hand gives life to that which in the eyes of men seems sterile and without fruit. With the image of the shoot of Jesse, one of the most beautiful symbols of the Prophets of the First Covenant, God also speaks to us. And in the shoots, in fact, which announce the new spring and the spring is new and stupendous, inaugurated by that birth that is proposed again every year, the same and <yet> totally new. May Jesus’ birth in our world, in our hearts, be the beginning of a new life.
“But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God; who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).
Your presence here today is a sign of your faith, it’s a sign of your perseverance; it’s a sign of the love that overcomes hatred and evil. You have received the faithful God, who consoles and reinforces His people, and so we are still here. We have come to draw strength from God to live as children and brothers, to learn to follow the path of forgiveness, of healing, of reconciliation <and> of fraternity. We are sustained in this by God’s consolation and tenderness.
In the Mass at Saint Martha’s House last December 11, Pope Francis spoke about the Lord’s tenderness, which never fails even in moments of darkness and suffering, as a mother does with her crying child. To us also, wounded by pain and suffering, at times discouraged and without the strength to go forward, the Lord gives comfort with His tenderness, He gives His peace and encourages us not to be afraid.
The icon of Mary of Liberation (Sayyidat al-Nagat), to whom this Cathedral is dedicated, reminds us of this. Mixed in Mary’s gaze is a certain sadness and concern, notwithstanding her carrying the Word of God in her arms. In fact, “in moments when one suffers consolation is not felt.” However “consolation gives peace,” Pope Francis reminds us. And “a Christian can’t lose peace because it’s a gift of the Lord: the Lord offers is to all, even in the most awful moments.” However, it’s necessary to always have one’s gaze fixed on Him, as Mary did and invites us to do. So we will be able to hear her words: fear not, I am here.
Contemplating the Divine Child on this holy night, the Lord consoles us and fills us with joy and peace, so that we never lose hope and can always be “luminous, positive persons.”
Beloveds, I wish each one of you to be bearer of the fire of Christ. This is the great contribution that you are called to make to your beloved country, to society and to the whole world. It is in fact a beautiful mission and a great responsibility!
I wish to conclude this reflection of mine with the words of the great Ephrem the Syrian, Doctor of the universal Church, so dear to you” Blessed be the child, who today made Bethlehem exult. Blessed be the infant, who today has rejuvenated humanity; Blessed be the fruit, which bowed to our hunger; Blessed be the good One who, in an instant, enriched all our poverty and filled our indigence. Blessed is He who bowed by His mercy to take care of our infirmity.
To Him, Redeemer of the whole world, we entrust on this holy night our families, our communities, our neighbours and this beloved country. So be it.[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]