VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Iraqi Christians are true and courageous witnesses of Christ’s message of hope, forgiveness and love, Pope Francis said.

“The church suffers with you and is proud of you, proud to have children like you,” he said Sept. 3, in a greeting to Arabic-speaking pilgrims, especially those from Iraq.

The pope spoke in Italian, with Arabic translation, at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square.


He told the pilgrims that the church is a mother who knows how to help her children most in need, “pick up the child who falls, heal the sick, seek the lost, wake up the sleeping, and also defend her defenseless and persecuted children.”

The pope said he wanted to assure Iraqis, and all those helpless and persecuted, of his closeness.

“You are in the church’s heart,” he said, as he asked God to bless and protect them.

The church is proud of those who persevere through such hardship, he said, because “you are the strength and real and authentic witness of her message of salvation, forgiveness and love. I embrace you all, all of you!”

The pope’s words to Iraqis came after a catechesis on the maternal nature of the church.

“We are not orphans! We have a mom, a mother” in the church and in Mary, he said.

“The birth of Jesus from the womb of Mary, in fact, is the prelude to the rebirth of every Christian in the womb of the church,” he said.

That is why a person never becomes a Christian on his or her own, through his or her own efforts, but is “born and raised in the faith inside that great body that is the church,” said the pope.

From the moment of Baptism, when a child is reborn a son or daughter of the church, the church, “just like a devoted mother, offers her children the spiritual nourishment that fortifies and makes bountiful the Christian life,” he said.

“We are all called to welcome with an open mind and heart the Word of God that the church offers every day because this Word has the ability to change us from within. Only the Word of God can do this,” he said.

“And who gives us this Word of God? The mother church! She nurses us as children with this Word. She raises us throughout our whole lives with this Word” and she teaches her children how to walk “the path of salvation” toward Christ.

“The church exerts itself to show the faithful the road to take to live a fruitful life of joy and peace” in a world filled with darkness, pain and temptation, he said.

“The church guides us and accompanies us with the power of the Gospel and the support of the sacraments (which give) us the ability to defend ourselves from evil.”

“The church has the courage of a mother who knows she must protect her children from the dangers that come from Satan’s presence in the world, in order to lead them to an encounter with Jesus,” he said.

The pope said people shouldn’t be naive about evil and temptation, but should “resist with the advice of their mother, resist with the help of the mother church because a good mother always is by the side of her children during hard times.”

“This is the church we all love, the church I love! — a mother that has in her heart, the well-being of her children and is willing to give her life for them.”

Christians, however, are not only children of the church, they, too are called to have the same maternal instinct and approach, he said.

“How often we are wimps!” he said, when Christians avoid the duty to share the Gospel and “this maternal courage of the church” with others and help generate a new life in Christ for them.

“The church isn’t just priests and us bishops. No, it’s all of us” and everyone is called to have the same maternal spirit “with the sincere capacity to welcome, forgive, give strength and instill trust and hope. This is what a mother does.”

Later, when greeting newlyweds attending the general audience, the pope told them to stay close to God so their love would be “true and long-lasting.”

“You are courageous, I’m saying that because you have to have courage to get married today! You are the brave ones!” he said to smiles and applause from the young couples.