Pope Francis is sending gifts to northern Iraq’s persecuted Church via a Catholic charity, which is set to visit the region.
The pope entrusted some liturgical vestments and a personal financial donation to Bishop Francesco Cavina of Carpi, who will be part of an Aid to the Church in Need project trip to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, from 1st to 4th April.
Bishop Cavina said: “Just as soon as the Holy Father learned of this visit of mine with ACN, he telephoned me expressing his desire to send a gift to our Iraqi brethren in the faith”.
The pope also gave a letter to Bishop Cavina in which he praises the ACN visit as an “initiative that expresses friendship, ecclesial communion and close fellowship with so many of our brothers and sisters, whose situation of affliction and tribulation grieves me deeply and calls out to us to defend the inalienable right of every person to freely profess his own faith.”
In his letter Pope Francis called on the faithful “not to forget the drama of persecution” and notes how “the patient and courageous witness of faith on the part of so many disciples of Christ represents a call for the whole Church to rediscover the fertile wellsprings of the Paschal Mystery, from which we can draw energy, strength and light for a new humanism”.
The Holy Father continued: “Mercy calls on us to bend over these brothers and sisters of ours, to dry their tears, heal their physical and moral wounds, and console their grief-stricken and damaged hearts.
“It is not a matter of a mere dutiful act of charity but of helping our very own hearts, since all Christians, in virtue of the same baptism, are ‘one’ in Christ.”
In Kurdistan the delegation – which also includes Bishop Antonio Suetta of Ventimiglia-San Remo and Don Massimo Fabbri, representing the archdiocese of Bologna – will meet with Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil who oversees the ACN-backed aid programme.
They will visit refugee centres in the mainly Christian suburb of Ankawa, including Werenfried Village, named after the founder of ACN, Fr Werenfried van Straaten.
Fr Werenfried Village consists of 150 prefabricated houses, now home to 175 Christian families.
They will also visit schools – housed in prefabricated buildings provided by ACN – in which some 7,000 displaced children are studying.
The delegation is due to meet with Syriac Catholic Bishop Petros Mouche of Mosul, who has been forced to live in Erbil with his Catholic faithful since Mosul was overrun by Daesh (ISIS) in 2014.
Alessandro Monteduro, the national director of ACN (Italy) who will be leading the trip, said: “Right from the very start ACN has supported the Christian refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan.
“We have donated food, homes and schools, so that they could live in dignity. To say nothing of the support for their pastoral work, so that the Christians there can continue to fully live their faith. It is a faith which they have courageously refused to renounce.”
Since June 2014, when Mosul fell, ACN has given nearly £12 million to support suffering Iraqi Christians.
Photo: A displaced girl holds an ACN Child’s Bible in Werenfried Village, an ACN-backed refugee centre in Erbil, Iraq. © ACN.