As a sign of affection and closeness, Pope Francis has decided to send vestments used in the liturgy and a financial donation to Christian refugees in Erbil through the Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need.
“Mercy invites us to bend over these brothers of ours in order to dry their tears, to heal their moral and physical wounds, and to console their afflicted and perhaps lost hearts,” the Pope said in a letter addressed to Bishop Francesco Cavina of Carpi.
To do this, the Pope said, is not just “an act of proper charity, but a relief to your own body, because all Christians, by virtue of their shared baptism, are 'one' in Christ.”
Bishop Cavina will be part of a delegation traveling to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, April 1-4 with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
Other members of the delegation will include Bishop Antonio Suetta of Ventimiglia-San Remo, Fr. Massimo Fabbri in representation of the Archdiocese of Bologna, and Alessandro Monteduro, director of ACN in Italy, who will serve as the group’s guide.
In a March 23 article published on ACN’s website, Bishop Cavina said that as soon as Pope Francis heard about the delegation’s visit, he called expressing his desire “to send a gift to our brothers in the faith in Iraq.”
This gift includes vestments and a personal financial donation, which the Pope will entrust to Bishop Cavina, who will then give it to the local Church when the delegation arrives.
In his letter to the bishop, Francis said the trip is “an initiative which expresses friendship, ecclesial communion and closeness to many brothers and sisters, whose situation of affliction and tribulation pains me deeply and invites us to defend the inalienable right of every person to freely profess their faith.”
The Pope invited delegation members not to forget “the drama of the persecution,” and added that the “courageous and patient witness” of Christians in Iraq “represents for the entire Church a call to rediscover the fruitful source of the Paschal Mystery from which energy, strength and light for a new humanism are drawn.”
As part of their visit, the group will meet with Archbishop Youhanna Boutros Moshe of the Syriac Archeparchy of Mosul, who left the city when it was overrun by the Islamic State in June, 2014.
They will also meet with the Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil, Bashar Warda, who will take them to refugee centers in a mainly Christian suburb of Erbil called Ankawa.
Additionally, the group will stop by the village of Fr. Werenfried, named after the founder of ACN, where 175 Christian families are currently living. The trip will also include visits to ACN schools, which allow nearly 7,000 Iraqi refugee children to continue their education.
Since 2014 ACN has donated more than 15.1 million euros ($17.2 million) to support Christian refugees and displaced persons in Iraq.
The organization stepped up their efforts to offer support during Lent, when the Italian branch promoted six projects aimed at offering aid to the 250,000 Christians still in Iraq. The dioceses of Carpi and Ventimiglia-San Remo have also joined the effort, offering their own donations.