Benedict XVI has always paid close attention “to the Churches in the Middle East”, evidence of the importance the religious minority plays as a “factor of unity” in a fragmented and divided region, said an Iraqi priest who was in St Peter’s Square for Pope Benedict XVI’s last general audience.
For the clergyman, the pope highlighted the importance of a region, marked by violence and wars, but also a place full of examples of faith and witness. A further sign of the pope’s special concern and sensibility towards the region was his decision “to introduce Arabic in the audiences.”
Fr Basel Yaldo, a Baghdad-born Chaldean priest from the College of St Efrem, attended today’s audience (pictured above) together with Fr Samer and Fr Nehad, both from Mosul, northern Iraq, ideally confirming the idea of unity that holds Iraqi Christians together.
“We are very grateful to the pope for what he has done for the Church in Iraq and the Middle East starting with the apostolic visit he made in one of the region’s countries, Lebanon,” Fr Basel said. Our presence, he said on behalf of his fellow priests, is an “act of thanksgiving to His Holiness”.
For him, the pope’s focus on the Synod of Middle Eastern Churches, which he reiterated on many occasions, underscores the central place Christians have in the region.
“We are a factor of unity in the country since antiquity,’ Fr Basel said, “since the first century after Christ when Saint Thomas established the bases on which the first Church was founded. We are proud to be Middle Eastern Christians and we want to be an example for others.”
“The issue,” he added, “is not about being a minority or a majority, but about the quality of our presence in the country.”
Fr Basel is full of hope for Iraq. He sees “good prospects”, starting with the election of a new patriarch, his Beatitude Mar Louis Raphael I, who will continue the work of dialogue and cooperation with the Muslim majority, as indicated by Benedict XVI.
“In relating to Islam, the pope has sought open and sincere dialogue,” the Iraqi priest. “He has taken many steps on the path of dialogue with the Islamic world, but it still remains a long one to cover”.