Pope Francis has appealed for a concerted effort to protect Iraqi civilians who are trapped in the embattled city of Mosul after more than 200 civilians were killed in an airstrike. Speaking during the General Audience in St Peter's Square, the Holy Father expressed deep pain for the victims and appealed to all to make every possible effort to protect civilians, which he said is an "imperative and urgent" obligation.
Encouraging the Iraqi people to pursue a path of unity within respect
for diversity, the Pope also asked for prayers for reconciliation and
harmony between the different ethnic groups that make up the population.
In his catechesis the Pope encouraged Christians to always put their trust in God's word, even at those times when hope seems humanly impossible.
Reflecting on St Paul's Letter to Romans in which he presents Abraham not only as our father in faith, but also as our father in hope, Francis said the reading helps us put the strong tie that exists between faith and hope into focus.
He said that hoping against hope, Abraham trusted in God's promise that, despite his old age and that of Sarah his wife, he would become the father of many nations.
"Great hope, he said, is rooted in faith", that's why it is able to go beyond all human expectations. "We must all pray to God, open our hearts and He will teach us what hope is" he said.
Reminding those present that God promises to set us free from sin and death by the power of Christ's resurrection, Pope Francis urged the faithful to place their certainties not so much in their own capacities, but in the hope that derives from God's promise of life.
Faith, he said, teaches us, to hope against hope by putting our own trust in God's word even at those times when hope seems humanly impossible.
The Pope concluded urging believers to be confirmed in faith and hope during this Lenten journey to Easter, and to accept the promise of new life given us in the Lord's resurrection.
A delegation from the Iraqi Supervisory Board was present at the Audience, accompanied by Cardinal Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Pope Francis told them: "The richness of the dear Iraqi nation lies exactly in this mosaic, which represents unity in diversity, strength in union, and prosperity in harmony."
The Pope also invited pilgrims from Iraq and other Arab-speaking countries to look to Mary, the Mother of God, and follow her model of faith. "Like her, we are called to live a life sustained by faith and to look with hope to the completion of the Will of God in our lives. May God bless you!"