Pope Francis praises Iraqi Christians for persevering under persecution

Pope Francis described Iraqi Christians as a "rod that bends but does not break" in a video message of encouragement shown in the northern city of Erbil on Saturday.


The message coincided with a visit from the Archbishop of Lyon Cardinal Philippe Babarin, whose diocese is twinned with Erbil.

More than 100,000 Christians have fled their homes in Mosul since June when the Islamist militant group Islamic State took control, many of whom have fled to Erbil.

The Pope used the message as an opportunity to draw attention again to the plight of Christians in the region, and called for greater international collaboration to end the current conflict.

He also sent his own heartfelt encouragement, thanking them for not denying their faith in the face of persecution and "inhuman violence". He described their perseverance as a "gift of the Holy Spirit."

He said: "Today I wish to draw closer those of you who tolerate this suffering, and to be close to you ... And I think of St Therese of the Baby Jesus, who said that she and the Church were like a rod: when the wind rises and the storm comes, the rod bends but it does not break. At the moment, you are like this rod: you bend painfully, but you have the strength to carry forth your faith, which is a testimony to us. You are God's rod today! The rods that bend under this ferocious wind, but then rise up again."

The pontiff also referred to his recent visit to Turkey, during which he made a number of gestures of peace toward Muslims, including praying at Istanbul's Blue Mosque and saying publicly that it was wrong to equate Islam with violence. He also called on Muslims worldwide to condemn acts of terrorism.

Pope Francis ended his message by saying "you are in my heart and my prayers".