VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Iraqi Christians are true and courageous witnesses
of Christ's message of hope, forgiveness and love, Pope Francis said.
"The church suffers with you and is proud of you, proud to have children
like you," he said Sept. 3, in a greeting to Arabic-speaking pilgrims,
especially those from Iraq.
The pope spoke in Italian, with Arabic translation, at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square.
He told the pilgrims that the church is a mother who knows how to help
her children most in need, "pick up the child who falls, heal the sick,
seek the lost, wake up the sleeping, and also defend her defenseless and
The pope said he wanted to assure Iraqis, and all those helpless and persecuted, of his closeness.
"You are in the church's heart," he said, as he asked God to bless and protect them.
The church is proud of those who persevere through such hardship, he
said, because "you are the strength and real and authentic witness of
her message of salvation, forgiveness and love. I embrace you all, all
The pope's words to Iraqis came after a catechesis on the maternal nature of the church.
"We are not orphans! We have a mom, a mother" in the church and in Mary, he said.
"The birth of Jesus from the womb of Mary, in fact, is the prelude to
the rebirth of every Christian in the womb of the church," he said.
That is why a person never becomes a Christian on his or her own,
through his or her own efforts, but is "born and raised in the faith
inside that great body that is the church," said the pope.
From the moment of Baptism, when a child is reborn a son or daughter of
the church, the church, "just like a devoted mother, offers her children
the spiritual nourishment that fortifies and makes bountiful the
Christian life," he said.
"We are all called to welcome with an open mind and heart the Word of
God that the church offers every day because this Word has the ability
to change us from within. Only the Word of God can do this," he said.
"And who gives us this Word of God? The mother church! She nurses us as
children with this Word. She raises us throughout our whole lives with
this Word" and she teaches her children how to walk "the path of
salvation" toward Christ.
"The church exerts itself to show the faithful the road to take to live a
fruitful life of joy and peace" in a world filled with darkness, pain
and temptation, he said.
"The church guides us and accompanies us with the power of the Gospel
and the support of the sacraments (which give) us the ability to defend
ourselves from evil."
"The church has the courage of a mother who knows she must protect her
children from the dangers that come from Satan's presence in the world,
in order to lead them to an encounter with Jesus," he said.
The pope said people shouldn't be naive about evil and temptation, but
should "resist with the advice of their mother, resist with the help of
the mother church because a good mother always is by the side of her
children during hard times."
"This is the church we all love, the church I love! -- a mother that has
in her heart, the well-being of her children and is willing to give her
life for them."
Christians, however, are not only children of the church, they, too are
called to have the same maternal instinct and approach, he said.
"How often we are wimps!" he said, when Christians avoid the duty to
share the Gospel and "this maternal courage of the church" with others
and help generate a new life in Christ for them.
"The church isn't just priests and us bishops. No, it's all of us" and
everyone is called to have the same maternal spirit "with the sincere
capacity to welcome, forgive, give strength and instill trust and hope.
This is what a mother does."
Later, when greeting newlyweds attending the general audience, the pope
told them to stay close to God so their love would be "true and
"You are courageous, I'm saying that because you have to have courage to
get married today! You are the brave ones!" he said to smiles and
applause from the young couples.