Pope Francis compared persecuted Iraqi Christians to a reed that while battered by the wind, does not break.
In a videotaped message sent this weekend to Iraqi Christians who were forced to flee their homes due to the takeover of the Islamic State group and its implementation of strict Shariah law, Francis said, “Christians are being driven from the Middle East in suffering.”
The pope’s message of solidarity with the Christian refugees was sent with French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin who on Saturday visited the Iraqi city of Erbil, to which thousands of Christians fled when the Sunni Islamist militants overran Mosul in June.
Catholic News Agency reported that Francis drew an analogy between the Iraqi Christian refugees’ fortitude in the face of suffering and a storied saint:
St. Therese of Lisieux, the Pope reflected, compared both herself and the Church to a reed which bends in the wind and the storm, but does not break.
“You are, in this moment, this reed,” the Pope said. “You bend with pain, but you have the strength to carry your faith forward,” thereby giving witness.
“You are God's reeds today! The reeds which bend over in this ferocious wind, but then rise up!”
Other Catholic news outlets reported that the pontiff used the word “rod,” rather than “reed” in conveying the analogy with the saint.
Francis said that though he could not travel to Iraq himself, “I am very close to you in these difficult moments” and expressed empathy with their suffering.
The pope suggested Islamist militants aimed to thoroughly clear “every trace” of the Christian faith out of the region.
“It would seem that there they do not want there to be any Christians, but you bear witness to Christ,” Francis said according to the Vatican Information Service. “I think of the wounds, of the pain of women with their children, the elderly and the displaced, the wounds of those who are victims of every type of violence.”
“Even holy buildings, monuments, religious symbols and cultural heritage have been affected by the violence, almost as if to cancel every trace, every memory of the other,” the pope said.
“[D]ue to an extremist and fundamentalist group, entire communities, especially – but not only – Christians and Yazidi, have suffered and continue to suffer inhuman violence because of their religious and ethnic identity,” Francis said.
Despite being forced from their homes and abandoning their belongings, Christians and Yazidis “have not denied their faith.”
Last week, Pope Francis during a visit to Turkey urged Muslim leaders to condemn the “barbaric violence” on religious minorities in Syria and Iraq perpetrated by Islamic extremists.
“As religious leaders, we are obliged to denounce all violations against human dignity and human rights,” Francis said.