Pope Francis wrote Christians of the Middle East for Christmas, recognizing that their Christmas hymns will “be accompanied by tears and sighs” but also assuring them that “the birth of the Son of God in our human flesh is an indescribable mystery of consolation.”
The Pope’s lengthy letter, dated Dec. 21, was released by the Vatican on Tuesday.
In the message, the Pope spoke of ISIS as a “newer and disturbing terrorist organization, of previously unimaginable dimensions.”
He spoke to the Christians “who have been brutally driven out of your native lands, where Christians have been present since apostolic times,” but also mentioned the “members of other religious and ethnic groups who are also experiencing persecution.”
“I think in particular of the children, the young mothers, the elderly, the homeless and all refugees, the starving and those facing the prospect of a hard winter without an adequate shelter. This suffering cries out to God and it calls for our commitment to prayer and concrete efforts to help in any way possible. I want to express to all of you my personal closeness and solidarity, as well as that of the whole Church, and to offer you a word of consolation and hope,” the Holy Father wrote.
The Pope encouraged them to remain close to Christ since he is “our consolation and our hope.”
“May the trials which you are presently enduring strengthen the faith and the fidelity of each and all of you,” he said.
The Bishop of Rome also expressed his prayer that the persecuted Christians of the Middle East would experience fraternal communion like the first Christians did.
“The unity willed by our Lord is more necessary than ever at these difficult times; it is a gift from God, who appeals to our freedom and awaits our response,” he said.
Pope Francis spoke of the persecution as a “powerful summons to holiness of life, as saints and martyrs of every Christian community have attested.”
“I think with affection and veneration of the pastors and faithful who have lately been killed, often merely for the fact that they were Christians,” he wrote. “I think also of those who have been kidnapped, including several Orthodox bishops and priests of various rites.”
“I ask God to grant that all this suffering united to the Lord’s cross will bring about much good for the Church and for all the peoples in the Middle East,” he said.
Expressing his gratitude for the communion between the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic patriarchs, the Pope assured the faithful that their sufferings “contribute immensely to the cause of unity.”
“It is the ecumenism of blood, which demands a trusting abandonment to the working of the Holy Spirit,” he said.
The Pontiff further added that their presence in the Middle East, even though they are now a little flock, is valuable for the region.
“You are like leaven in the dough. Even more than the many contributions which the Church makes in the areas of education, healthcare and social services, which are esteemed by all, the greatest source of enrichment in the region is the presence of Christians themselves, your presence,” he said. “Thank you for your perseverance!”
Pope Francis also exhorted the mideast faithful to persevere in dialogue.
“The majority of you live in environments which are predominantly Muslim. You can help your Muslim fellow citizens to present with discernment a more authentic image of Islam, as so many of them desire, reiterating that Islam is a religion of peace, one which is compatible with respect for human rights and favours peaceful coexistence on the part of all,” the Pope wrote. “This will prove beneficial for them and for all society.”
He said religious leaders face a demand to clearly speak out against the crimes being committed “and to denounce the practice of invoking religion in order to justify them.”
He went on to express a special greeting for the patriarchs, priests and religious, as well as for the young, the elderly, those working in education, and other groups.
“Dear brothers and sisters, even though you may not be numerous, you play a significant role in the Church and in the countries where you live. The entire Church is close to you and supports you, with immense respect and affection for your communities and your mission. We will continue to assist you with our prayers and with every other means at our disposal,” he said.
Plea to the nations
Pope Francis asked the international community to address the needs of the suffering minorities, “above all by promoting peace through negotiation and diplomacy, for the sake of stemming and stopping as soon as possible the violence which has already caused so much harm.”
“How much longer must the Middle East suffer from the lack of peace?,” he asked. “We must not resign ourselves to conflicts as if change were not possible!”
On ZENIT’s Web page: