Pope Francis delivers Chaldean Mass in Iraq: 'Love is our strength'

The cathedral is a new place of worship in Baghdad’s Karrada district

Pope celebrates Mass in Baghdad

Pope celebrates Mass in Baghdad
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At a Mass in Baghdad, Pope Francis on Saturday reminded Iraq's Chaldean Catholics of one of the core tenets of their faith: those who are persecuted, poor and mourn are blessed.

The Pope held a Mass for Iraq's persecuted Christians at the Chaldean Catholic Cathedral of St Joseph in Baghdad – becoming the first time a Pope has celebrated a Mass using the Chaldean rite that is known to most Iraqi Catholics.

He gave a homily focused on the messages of love, patience, and bearing witness.

He said: “Love is our strength, the source of strength for those of our brothers and sisters who here too have suffered prejudice, indignities, mistreatment and persecutions for the name of Jesus.”

He told those in the congregation to follow the teachings of Jesus and the beatitudes taken from Jesus’ sermon that in God’s eyes – those who are blessed are not the wealthy, powerful or famous, but “the poor, those who mourn, the persecuted”.

In his sermon, he called on Iraqis to hold steady in the face of adversity, to stay patient, and to continue the heroism of bearing witness to the world around them.

Choir members practice at St. Joseph Chaldean Cathedral, where Pope Francis will hold a mass, ahead of his planned visit to Iraq, in Baghdad, Iraq February 23, 2021. Picture taken February 23, 2021. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily
The interior of St Joseph Chaldean Cathedral in Baghad. Reuters

He said: "Today I thank God with you and for you. Because here where witnesses arose in ancient times, witnesses rise here in our own time often overlooked by the news yet precious in God's eyes, witnesses who by living the Beatitudes are helping God fulfil his promises of peace."

Other speakers during the Mass, conducted largely in Arabic, also continued with the theme of love and patience including a reading from Paul's Letter to the Corinthians.

Pope Francis is in Iraq to give a spiritual boost to its dwindling Christian communities who were routed from their homes by years of bloodshed, persecution and then by ISIS but face continued threat from Shiite militias.

Chaldean Catholics are believed to represent around 80 per cent of the estimated 300,000 Christians left in Iraq.

Despite concerns about coronavirus infections, the church was full, stuffy with incense and a maskless choir sang hymns and chanted Scripture readings.

Pope Francis, who is vaccinated against the coronavirus, did not wear a mask, but priests and faithful did.

The cathedral in Baghdad’s Karrada district was built to meet the needs of the Chaldean community who moved there from the old district of Agd Al Nasara, which was served by the Cathedral of Mary Mother of Sorrows, known as Umm Al Ahzan, in the 1950s.

The foundation stone of the cathedral was laid by the Patriarch of the Chaldeans, Yusef VII Ghanima, on Holy Cross Day in 1952.

It was consecrated and inaugurated by the patriarch in 1956.

The cathedral has been restored and embellished several times since then, including in 2018 by the current Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, Louis Raphael Sako.

Funds for the new cathedral were raised by committee while it was being built. The committee also supervised the construction.

The cathedral was built near the site of a small shrine, called Mar Yousef, in the grounds of the Chaldean Mercy organisation, which also ran a school there.

Both the shrine and the school have closed since the cathedral's inauguration and have been replaced by a large community centre.