BAGHDAD (CNS) — In a somber Mass commemorating the 2010 massacre at the Church of Our Lady of Deliverance, Catholic leaders urged their faithful to have hope for the resurrection of Iraq.
Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan and Maronite Catholic Patriarch Bechara Rai traveled from Beirut for the Oct. 31 Mass. A year earlier, the church came under siege, and after a military raid to free the hostages, 48 people — including two priests — had been killed and more than 100 wounded.
A large poster was displayed on the altar, depicting the image of Jesus crucified, surrounded by headshots of each of the victims — the youngest just 3 years old. On each side of the crucifix was a full-length photo of the dead priests.
Many in the crowded pews, dressed in black, clutched pictures of relatives killed in the incident. Bloodstained walls, pock-marked with bullet holes, remain a reminder of the attack on the church, which is still under renovation.
Syriac Archbishop Ephrem Abba Mansoor of Baghdad told those at the memorial Mass that targeting Iraqi Christians “comes from an evil plan to destroy the unity of Iraq and its social and religious diversity.”
He urged the Iraqi government to work to halt the exodus of Christians from their homeland. Before the U.S.-led invasion, Christians in Iraq numbered 800,000 to 1 million. Now just 400,000 to a half million remain.
In his homily, Patriarch Younan emphasized the importance of living a true democracy and working together in unity for the progress of all Iraqi citizens.
“The Church of Our Lady of Deliverance is a witness to the steadfast faith of her children rooted in Iraq in order to accomplish love, peace and justice, which are fundamental to every citizen in Iraq aspiring to a bright future,” Patriarch Younan said.
“If the secret of martyrdom is in the heroism of the victims that we remember today, the act of forgiveness of the wounded and the victims’ families and all of us should shine in the sky of our wounded land plagued with hatred and violence, as a sign of our faith in the one that forgave his crucifiers and rose, glorified, preaching the true peace,” he said.
In closing remarks to a church that included other patriarchs, bishops and religious as well as lay Christians, Patriarch Rai likened the victims to “the grain of wheat, who died in order for the people of the new Iraq to have new life.”
“This precious blood of the victims awakens our consciousness, the consciousness of the leaders of Iraq and outside Iraq,” he said.