Yesterday the Holy Father received prelates from the Chaldean Church, who have just completed their ad limina visit. In the course of their audience with the Pope, the bishops gave him a cape used by Archbishop Faraj Rahho of Mosul and a stole belonging to Fr Ragheed Aziz Ganni, both killed in Iraq over recent months.
Through Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, the Pope sent greetings to all the Chaldean faithful, assuring them of his fervent prayers "at this very difficult time for your region, especially for Iraq". Recalling, among others, Archbishop Rahho and Fr Ganni, he said: "I ask God that the men and women of peace in that beloved region may unite their efforts to put an end to violence and enable everyone to live in security and mutual harmony".
"The Chaldean Church, the origins of which stretch back to the first centuries of the Christian era, has a long and noble tradition", said the Pope. This tradition "is an expression of her deep roots in the East, ... and of the vital contribution she makes to the Universal Church, especially with her theologians and masters of spirituality. Her history also shows how she has participated actively and fruitfully in the life of your nations. Today the Chaldean Church, which occupies an important place among the various institutions of your countries, must continue this mission at the service of human and spiritual development".
Benedict XVI underlined the fact that the Chaldean Church, "by establishing cordial relations with members of other communities, is called to play a vital moderating role in the building of a new society where everyone can live in harmony and reciprocal respect. I know that coexistence between the Muslim and Christian communities has gone through various vicissitudes", he said. "The Christians who have always lived in Iraq are full citizens of the country with the same rights and duties as everyone else, without any religious distinction".
The Holy Father invited Chaldean bishops to place the Word of God at the centre of their pastoral activities and projects, because "it is on faithfulness to that Word that unity among all the faithful is founded, in communion with pastors". In that patriarchal Church, he went on, "the synodal assembly is an indubitable gift which must be used as a means to help make ties of communion stronger and more effective, and to experience inter-episcopal charity", because the synod "is the place where co-responsibility is effectively achieved thanks to real collaboration among its members".
"Furthermore the Chaldean Church, above all in Iraq where it is the largest [Christian community], has a particular responsibility to promote the communion and unity of the mystical body of Christ. Thus I invite you to continue meeting with pastors of other 'sui iuris' Churches, and with leaders of other Christian Churches, in order to further the cause of ecumenism".
The Pope also dwelt on the critical situations bishops have to face, in the first place that of the "faithful who must confront the daily threat of violence", and he expressed his appreciation "for your courage and tenacity in the face of the ordeals and dangers to which you are subject, especially in Iraq". He then asked the bishops "to help your faithful overcome current difficulties and affirm your presence, appealing to those in charge for the recognition of your human and civil rights", and he invited them "to love the land of your ancestors to which you remain so deeply rooted".
Turning his attention then to the Chaldean diaspora, "whose numbers never cease to grow especially in the wake of recent events", Benedict XVI emphasised the importance of "maintaining and intensifying bonds with your Patriarchate, so as not to feel excluded from its central unity" and "to uphold your cultural and religious identity".
Finally the Pope praised "the Church's witness of charity towards all those in need, without distinction of origin or religion. This cannot but stimulate all people of good will to expressions of solidarity". In Iraq, "despite the terrible moments the country has gone through", such witness has given rise to works of charity "which do honour to God, the Church and the Iraqi people".
He concluded: "I invite you to continue your mission with courage and hope. ... May the prayers and assistance of your brothers and sisters in the faith, and of so many people of good will, accompany you, that God's loving gaze may continue to illuminate the long-suffering Iraqi people".