Francis makes comments during general audience St Peter's Square

Iraqi Christians are true and courageous witnesses of Christ’s message of hope, forgiveness and love, Pope Francis has said.

“The Church suffers with you and is proud of you, proud to have children like you,” he said on Wednesday during his weekly general audience in St Peter’s Square, in a greeting to Arabic-speaking pilgrims, especially those from Iraq.

The Pope spoke in Italian, with Arabic translation, telling 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.”

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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 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 added.

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