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Vatican City, Jul 22, 2014 / 10:54 am (CNA/EWTN News).- According an Italian Catholic new organization, Pope Francis made a phone call to Patriarch Ignatius Youssef III Younan over the weekend to reassure him of his continued prayers for Iraqi Christians.

Following the July 19 burning down of the Episcopal palace of Syrian-Catholics in Mosul, Italian Catholic news organization SIR reports that Pope Francis made a phone call to the Patriarch Ignatius Youssef III Younan of Antioch the afternoon of July 20 to express his condolences and closeness in a time of persecution.

The agency reports that during their 9 minute conversation, the Pope reassured the patriarch “that he follows closely and with concern the drama of forced and threatened Christians in the Iraqi city of Mosul.”

SIR referred to other reports coming from the Syrian-Catholic Patriarchate, which stated that Patriarch Younan “thanked the Pope” and asked him to “intensify” his efforts to engage world leaders by bringing them face-to-face with the fact that the province of Nineveh is undergoing “a mass cleaning based on religion.”

At the end of the call Pope Francis gave his apostolic blessing to the patriarch and to “all the Christian people of the East,” assuring that he “will always be present in his prayers for peace and security.”

Members of ISIS, a militant group that operates in Iraq and Syria with the aim of establishing a caliphate in northern Syria and Iraq, overtook the country’s second-largest city, Mosul and the city of Tikrit, 95 miles north of Baghdad, June 10.

The group had seized portions of Ramadi and Falluja earlier; Tal Afar was seized by ISIS June 16; and the group briefly held parts of Baquba, 37 miles outside of Baghdad, the following day.

ISIS currently controls much of the Sunni areas of northern and western Iraq, as well as cities along the Euphrates River in northwest Syria.

Thursday the self-proclaimed Islamic Caliphate declared to the remaining Christian community of Mosul that they either needed openly convert to Islam, pay an unspecified jizya tax in exchange for their safety while observing certain conditions, or leave their homes with only their clothes, nothing more.

Following Thursday’s declaration, the houses of Mosul Christians were marked with an “N,” signifying “Nazarenes.” As a result, the few remaining Christians have left, marking the first time in history the city has been without Christians.

Fr. Nawar, a priest from Nineveh currently living in Rome, spoke with CNA July 22, stating that the country is overrun by “war, violence, conflict. It is not the same Iraq as before.”

Hailing from the Iraqi city of Karakosh on the plains of Nineveh, a city currently under Kurdish protection and where many citizens fleeing Mosul are taking refuge, Fr. Nawar lamented the exodus of Christians from the city, stating that “for four days there have been no Christians in Mosul.”

“All of them left because there is fear,” he said. “All of the Christians are leaving. Families left for Nineveh by foot. There is no car, no money. Many people right now are afraid, afraid of this future.”

“Today life, Christian life in Iraq, is very hard,” the Iraqi priest continued, explaining how when many times when families have attempted to leave the city they were stopped and asked “where are you going?”

When they responded “I’m leaving because I’m afraid in this city,” militant forces tell them to stop and get out of the car. Then “whoever has money, gold, documents…they take all of it,” Fr. Nawar observed, explaining that for those who do not leave, “I think they die.”

Noting how the future of the country is “not certain” he explained that it’s hard to say what the future will bring “because today thousands of Christian families are leaving for Nineveh. Today there is no Christianity in Mosul.”

“There has been war every day, every day the war has developed, there is no peace, there is no dialogue, there is no communication. All of this is a fact right now in Iraq.”

Despite the current discord and seemingly bleak outlook of the country, Fr. Nawar, who is in daily contact with his bishop and other priests in Iraq, explained that there is still hope “because we believe in Christianity” and “we believe in hope.”

“We are with every person. Sick, in pain. But even today there is fear,” the priest observed. “Every day there is the need to confront this fear. This is the question.”

“Even today many Christians from other cities, other regions also have fear…in Karakosh, also in Baghdad, there is fear. They don’t know, they don’t know what to do in the future.”

Vatican City, Jul 22, 2014 / 04:49 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Vatican has released Pope Francis’ schedule for the first of his two day-trips to the Italian city of Caserta, where he will later meet an evangelical pastor and friend from his time in Buenos Aires.

Pope Francis will travel by helicopter to the province of Caserta in the Campania region of Italy the afternoon of July 26, and will arrive to the NCO (Non-Commissioned Officers) School of the Air Force, in the Royal Palace of Caserta at 3:45 p.m.

After his arrival, the Roman Pontiff will hold a meeting with the diocese’s priests and seminarians at 4 p.m., and will celebrate Mass at the airport at 6 p.m.

Following the Mass, he will return to the Vatican by helicopter that evening so that he can recite the Angelus prayer with faithful in St. Peter’s Square Sunday, as he does every week.

On Monday, July 28, the Bishop of Rome will return to Caserta to pay a private visit to his longtime friend, Evangelical pastor Giovanni Traettino, and his community.

Announced by the Vatican July 10, the Pope’s Caserta visit was originally scheduled as a one-day event for the purpose of his private encounter with pastor Giovanni Traettino, however upon receiving an invitation from the diocese’s bishop, Giovanni D'Avise, the pontiff decided to add a day in order to meet with locals.

In the initial July 10 announcement of the visit, the Vatican revealed that the idea of making the trip to pastor Traettino’s church of the Reconciliation in Caserta originally sprang from an encounter Pope Francis had with a group of evangelical pastors in the Vatican last month, during which the pontiff expressed his desire to visit the pastor’s church.

The visit with pastor Traettino “will be a strictly private, simple and quick” encounter, the statement read.

Caserta lies in southern Italy and is a prominent agricultural, commercial and industrial commune. It is roughly a two-and-a-half hour drive from Vatican City.


Please see below for the Pope’s full schedule:

Saturday, July 26, 2014

3:00 p.m. Depart by helicopter from the Vatican heliport

3:45 p.m. Land in the heliport of the NCO (Non-Commissioned Officers) School of the Air Force, in the Royal Palace of Caserta

4:00 p.m. Encounter with priests of the diocese in the Officers Club of the Air Force in the Royal Palace of Caserta

6:00 p.m. Holy Mass in the square in front of the Palace of Caserta

7:30 p.m. Depart by helicopter from the NCO (Non-Commissioned Officers) School of the Air Force, in the Royal Palace of Caserta

8:15 p.m. Arrive to the Vatican heliport

Vatican City, Jul 21, 2014 / 05:55 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his weekly Sunday Angelus address Pope Francis mourned the fleeing of the last Christians from the Iraqi city of Mosul, who were told by ISIS forces last week to either convert, pay the Jizya tax or leave.

“They are persecuted; our brothers are persecuted, they are driven out, they have to leave their houses without having the possibility of taking anything with them,” Pope Francis voiced in his July 20 Angelus address.

“I want to express my closeness and my constant prayer to these families and these people,” he continued. “Dear brothers and sisters who are so persecuted, I know how much you suffer, I know that you are stripped of everything. I am with you in the faith of the one who has conquered evil!”

Members of ISIS, a militant group that operates in Iraq and Syria with the aim of establishing a caliphate in northern Syria and Iraq, overtook the country’s second-largest city, Mosul and the city of Tikrit, 95 miles north of Baghdad, June 10.

The group had seized portions of Ramadi and Falluja earlier; Tal Afar was seized by ISIS June 16; and the group briefly held parts of Baquba, 37 miles outside of Baghdad, the following day.

ISIS currently controls much of the Sunni areas of northern and western Iraq, as well as cities along the Euphrates river in northwest Syria.

Thursday the self-proclaimed Islamic Caliphate declared to the remaining Christian community of Mosul that they either needed openly convert to Islam, pay an unspecified jizya tax in exchange for their safety while observing certain conditions, or leave their homes with only their clothes, nothing more.

Following Thursday’s declaration, the houses of Mosul Christians were marked with an “N,” signifying “Nazarenes.” As a result, the few remaining Christians have left, marking the first time in history the city has been without Christians.

Pope Francis encouraged those gathered in St. Peter’s Square as well as those watching on television to pray for “the situations of tension and conflict that persist in different parts of the world, especially in the Middle East and in Ukraine.”

“The God of peace will awaken in all the authentic desire for dialogue and reconciliation. Violence will not win over violence. Violence is won over by peace!” he said, and led the pilgrims in a moment of silent prayer.

During his address before the traditional Marian prayer, the Roman Pontiff recounted the parable of the day’s Gospel, in which the owner of a field plants wheat, but one of his enemies comes during the night and plants weeds in the field as well.

Observing how the Hebrew root for the word “enemy” used in scripture is the same as that of “Satan,” the Pope described how the name gives the connotation of division, and explained that the devil “always seeks to divide individuals, families, nations and peoples.”

Observing how there is a twofold meaning to the parable, the pontiff noted that first of all it reveals to us that “the evil in the world does not come from God, but from his enemy, the devil.”

Another lesson we learn is when we look at “the contradiction between the impatience of the servants and the patience of the owner of the field, who represents God,” he continued, referring to how the servants wanted to burn all the weeds, but the field owner instead waited and had the wheat and weeds grow together so that he could save the good seeds later.

“Sometimes we are very quick to judge, classify, put the good over here, the bad over there,” the Bishop of Rome noted, stating that instead “God knows how to wait. God is patient” and “waits with heart in hand in order to welcome, to forgive. He always forgives if we go to him.”

Going on, the Pope drew attention to the attitude of the field owner, saying that it is that of the hope founded on the certainty that evil will have neither the first nor the last word.”

“It is thanks to this patient hope of God that the same weed, which is the evil heart with many sins, in the end can become wheat,” he said, “But be attentive: evangelical patience is not an indifference to evil; we cannot confuse good and evil!”

“In front of the weeds present in the world the disciple of the Lord is called to imitate the patience of God, and nourish the hope of the ultimate good, which is God.”

Concluding his address, Pope Francis explained that “we will be judged with the same measure we have judged others.”

“The mercy that we have shown to others will also be shown to us,” he stated, and prayed that Mary, “our Mother,” help us “to grow in patience, in hope and in mercy with all of our brothers.”

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