"The Pope's love for the Iraqi Church is of great help and gives us strength to continue hoping," said Mgr Rabban al-Qas, Chaldean bishop of Amadiyah and Erbil (Kurdistan), as he spoke about the brief meeting he had today with Benedict XVI following the Pope's general audience in St Peter's Square.
The prelate, who is currently in Rome, brought to the Pope "the greetings of his entire diocese, of the students attending Babel College and St Peter's Major Chaldean Seminary who have recently moved to Ankawa to escape the great insecurity that reigns in Baghdad."
In the brief tête-à-tête, Benedict XVI returned the greetings and "assured that Iraq and all its seminarians are in his prayers."
Mgr Rabban also presented the "greetings of Kurdish authorities, first among them, President Massoud Barzani, who is involved in the reconstruction of many Christian villages."
The bishop explained that many Christians have fled the capital's hellish situation or Mosul. Because of "the growing insecurity, many churches have had to close and many priests have had to go abroad, especially in Canada and Germany."
Reopening the Major Seminary and Babel College—the only school of theology in Iraq—in Kurdistan has given the community new hope.
"This Lent saw the faithful turn out in great numbers," Mgr al-Qas said. "They came to the Via Crucis on Fridays as well as to catechism. Sunday mass in the villages always draws a crowd. Fasting is always respected throughout the period of preparation for Easter."
"The Pope," he noted, "shows that he loves our Church and we want to witness love and courage for the whole world. Iraq's Christians still have faith and hope and are convinced that God has not forgotten them. Sooner or later we shall see peace."