Pope Francis telephoned a priest serving refugees at a camp in northern Iraq last month after receiving a heartfelt letter from him about the suffering of Christians there.
Fr Behnam Benoka, who received the call, told the Zenit news agency that the Pope expressed his closeness to persecuted Christians and his gratitude at the work of volunteers. He also promised to do his utmost to relieve their suffering, the priest said.
Fr Benoka had sent a message via Viber to Rome-based journalist Alan Holdren, who handed it to the Pope on his return from South Korea.
In his message to the Pope Fr Benoka introduced himself as vice-rector of the Catholic seminary in Ankawa, adding: “Today, however, I find myself in a tent that has been erected with a staff of doctors and volunteers who are giving medical care to our brothers fleeing persecution.
“Your Holiness,” he continued, “the situation of your sheep is miserable, they are dying and they are hungry. Your little ones are scared and cannot hide anymore. We priests and religious are few and fear not being able to meet the physical and mental needs of your and our children.”
According to Zenit, the priest wrote: “I would like to thank you so much – really thank you – because you always carry us in your heart, placing us on the altar where Mass is celebrated so that God erases our sins and has mercy on us, and hopefully take this cup away from us.”
“I am writing with tears, because here we are, in a dark valley in the middle of a large pack of ferocious wolves. Holiness, I’m afraid of losing your children, especially infants who are struggling every day and weaken more and more. I’m afraid that death will take some away. Send us your blessing so we have the strength to go on and maybe still resist. I love you, Behnam Benoka.”