ROME – Pope Francis on Friday encouraged Eastern Christians in the Middle East, who are experiencing persecution and violence, to take hope in the cross, where Christ sacrificed himself not to eliminate wounds, but to transform them.
“In all of this, the constant repetition of the sign of the cross is a reminder that the Lord of mercy never abandons his brothers and sisters, but embraces their wounds within his own,” the pope said Nov. 24.
“By making the sign of the cross we recall Christ’s wounds, which the Resurrection did not eliminate but rather filled with light.
“So too the wounds of Christians, including those still open, become radiant when they are filled with the living presence of Jesus and his love,” he continued, “and thus become signs of Easter light in a world enveloped by so much darkness.”
Francis’s message was given to members of the Mixed Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East.
The commission is sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East, which is an Eastern Church found primarily in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Lebanon. The commission meets periodically to study and discuss points of theological difference.
In his message, Francis asked the Lord to bless the future work of the commission, that one day both Churches may celebrate “full communion in Christ’s Church.” He also emphasized an aspect of their new Joint Declaration, which refers to the sign of the cross as “an explicit symbol of unity among all sacramental celebrations.”
This is a beautiful reflection, he said, because “hope and peace” come from Christ’s glorious cross, “and from the cross flows the unity of the sacred mysteries we celebrate, as well as our own unity, for we were baptized into the same death and resurrection of the Lord.”
Francis noted that when we make the sign of the cross, or when we look at a crucifix, it is an invitation to think of those who have endured great sacrifices by uniting their suffering to Christ’s. It also reminds us to remember those who “today bear a heavy cross upon their shoulders.”
The Assyrian Church of the East, and other Churches in the Middle East, are afflicted by grave persecution and are witness to “brutal acts of violence,” he stated. This suffering was recently “exacerbated” by the tragedy of the Nov. 13 earthquake that hit the border between Iraq and Iran, killing at least 500 people and injuring thousands of others.
Those who have died from tragedy and from persecution – giving their lives “in following the Crucified Christ” – are the “heralds and patrons” in heaven of our visible communion on earth, he exclaimed, encouraging them to trust in the intercession of the saints as they continue to patiently rebuild their devastated land.