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In Christmas Messages, Patriarchs Lament Suffering, Offer Hope

26 Dec 2014 – By Doreen Abi Raad

BEIRUT (CNS) — Catholic patriarchs of the Middle East lamented the suffering of their people in violence-wracked areas and offered words of hope while calling for prayers for their safety.

In separate Christmas messages, each echoed a call for peace and issued pleas to the United States and Western nations to undertake new policies aimed at bringing an end to the violence that has plagued the region for years.

Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael I of Baghdad traveled to Ain Kawa, a suburb of Erbil in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, to celebrate Mass Christmas Eve for more than 2,000 displaced Christians under a massive tent.

Syriac Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Moshe of Mosul, also among the displaced, and Archbishop Barnaba Yousif Habash of the Syriac Diocese of Our Lady of Deliverance of Newark, New Jersey, were concelebrants.

Archbishop Habash, who oversees the spiritual needs of Syriac Catholics in the United States and Canada, visited Iraq to spend the holidays with the displaced.

Both clerics are from Qaraqosh, Iraq, a largely Syriac Catholic town until it was overtaken by Islamic State militants in August. More than 120,000 Christians and other minorities fled to Kurdistan from Mosul and other cities in the Ninevah Plain to escape.

Pope Francis, in a surprise phone call to the Mass, offered words of encouragement. “You’re like Jesus on this night, and I bless you and am close to you,” he told the congregation.

In his homily, Patriarch Louis Raphael said the birth of Christ was being celebrated under painful circumstances because they were separated from their homes and friends. “But this is not the end of the world,” he said.

“[Jesus’] birth revives hope in us that we may return to what we had to leave behind, to rebuild what has been damaged, reform what has been ruined, reunite what has been divided, and bring back home those who have been displaced,” the patriarch said.

“Was not Jesus born away from his hometown and house? Was not he persecuted and moved to Egypt then came back?” he asked.

Patriarch Louis Raphael called on the world to pray for the displaced Christians “so that they keep their courage, hope and trust in God, their father.” They need reassurance, he said, “that they are not alone and abandoned or forgotten.”

He urged the United States and Western nations “to reconsider their foreign policies” toward the Middle East.

“The current conflicts are in nobody’s favor; the use of weapons does not make true reforms, but through courageous and civilized dialogue. There is a need for a new vision and a more realistic and just processing of the issues taking place in the Middle East,” Patriarch Louis Raphal said.

Nechervan Barzani, prime minister of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, and other officials attended the Mass. Barzani asked the Christians to stay in Iraq and not to emigrate, saying the Kurdish regional government will do its best to help them.

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Tags: Syria Iraq Middle East Christians Violence against Christians Patriarchs