*Below is a letter written by Cardinal Piacenza, the President of Aid to the Church in Need, that was sent to all the bishops of the Nineveh Plains in Iraq and read out during the Easter celebrations.
The letter is followed by a prayer for the return of the families to their homes. The letter was asked to read during the Easter Masses in the destroyed villages of Qaraqosh, Telleskuf and others located on the Nineveh Plains in Iraq.
(Cardinal Piacenza, the President of Aid to the Church in Need © Aid to the Church in Need)
Vatican City, 12 April 2017
Dear sisters and brothers of the Nineveh Plains,
Christ is risen! He is truly risen! We of ,”Aid to the Church in Need” address this greeting to you on this Easter feast that is so special for you. We share your joy that now, after the time of darkness and sorrow, you may once more celebrate the Resurrection of Christ in the liberated towns and villages of your birth. After these years in which fear and suffering seemed to have the last word and in which you followed Christ on the way to Golgotha, may you now at last see the light of the Resurrection once more in your own lives.
During the time when you were expelled and your towns and villages lay in the hands of the men of violence, we were always at your side with our prayers and our loving concern. Innumerable people throughout the world shared in sympathy in your fate. We know, however, that not all this support and solidarity could unmake the suffering you endured. Many of you still mourn much loved family members. No one can measure the pain and sorrow that has befallen your families. Nonetheless, we want to tell you that the testimony of our Christian brothers and sisters on the Niniveh Plains, many of whom have followed Christ in persecution and suffering and even at the cost of their own lives, is for us a shining example. We ask the intercession of these new martyrs and pray to God that HE may transform the mourning of your families and fill your hearts with consolation.
With all our hearts we pray that God made grant you and your families the grace soon to be able to return at last to the places where you have your roots and where your ancestors have dwelt for so many centuries. May this Easter feast be for you the beginning of a new life in the light of the Risen One and may the ringing of your bells and the sound of your hymns never again fall silent there. May peace dwell once more in these places where, since the beginning of Christianity, the praises of the Risen One were always sung and may you, your children and your children's children dwell for ever in peace and security in your ancestral lands and be permitted to celebrate many more Easters there in years to come.
We pray for you, and with you, and we call on the Christian faithful in all the world to join with us also. Please pray also for us.
We wish you and all your families a joyful, blessed and grace-filled Easter Festival and a speedy return to your homes.
Cardinal Mauro Piacenza
President of Aid to the Church in Need
(The Syrian Catholic archbishop of Mosul, Yohanna Petros Mouche offering Mass in the burnt out remains of a church in Qaraqosh after it was liberated from ISIS forces © Aid to the Church in Need)
Lord and God,
Hear today the cry of your children, now scattered to the four winds and forced to seek shelter in foreign lands. Hear the prayers of your people on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates, in the land of Abraham, who since the beginnings of Christianity have not ceased to praise and glorify your Name.
Throughout the centuries no day has passed there on which the Holy Sacrifice of the Body and Blood of your Son was not celebrated. Without interruption, the sound of the bells and the singing of their hymns have risen up to you, together with the smoke of the incense that was offered in your Name.
Yet now this sacrifice of praise has become for many a Way of the Cross on which for your Name's sake they have been driven from their homes and robbed of their possessions and their happiness. For the sake of your Name many have even shed their blood. Their sacrifice has become one with the Sacrifice of your Son on Golgotha. The persecutors, with their guns and their their raging violence, seemed to have triumphed; death and mourning seemed to have had the last word. It seemed as though their end had come.
Yet today, Lord of history and Shepherd of your people, the hour of liberation has come. Those who desecrated your sanctuary, who destroyed the crosses and sacred images, who persecuted and expelled your faithful, are now gone.
Grant your people now the grace of returning to those places where the tree of their life is deeply rooted. Grant that this tree may bear fruits of peace and enable your people to restore the honour of your Name in those places you gave to them and to their ancestors, and preserve this land for future generations also, so that the praise of your Name may never cease in their churches and in their families.
We ask you this, O God, lover of mankind, through the intercession of Mary, the Blessed Mother of God, of the martyrs of the Niniveh Plain and of all who have borne witness to you by their blood. Amen.
(A headless statue of the Virgin Mary in a Church looted and burned by ISIS forces in 2014 © Aid to the Church in Need)
ACN is asking for support for Christian minorities in need in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon to make it possible for them to remain in their homelands. Aid to the Church in Need has set up a homepage to provide information about what is happening to Christians in Syria and Iraq, to present successful projects and issue invitations to prayer and requests for donations: www.australia.acninternational.org
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 172 languages and 50 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
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