Together with Pope Francis I am, in my prayers, thoughts and heart, with my brothers and sisters in Kurdistan, so many of whom I met and got to know on my two visits. We prayed together, shared meals, and had long conversations. I visited churches, convents, schools, kindergartens and homes – many memories, many friends, all of whom have been in my heart since the day I first set foot on Iraqi soil. Archbishops Bashar Warda of Erbil and Amel Nona of Mosul, two very good friends, are especially in my prayers tonight, the birth of Our Lord and Savior. God sit on your shoulders, my dear friends! May He bless you abundantly and preserve you in faith and hope! Merry Christmas!

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis this evening telephoned refugees sheltered in Kurdistan to express his closeness to them on Christmas night.

Christmas - IRAQ

The telephone call to Father Benoca, who heads the Christian community in the Ankawa Refugee Center near Erbil, the capital city of Iraqi Kurdistan, was broadcast live by an Italian Catholic TV station.

Thousands of persecuted Christians have sought refuge in the camp following the invasion of Islamic State militants of Mosul.

Over the telephone line, the Pope told refugees that he is “close to them with all of his heart” and assured him he praying for them.

“You are like Jesus on the night of his birth when he had been forced to flee. You are like Jesus in this situation, and that means we are praying even harder for you”.

“Dear brothers – Pope Francis said – I am very, very close to you with all of my heart. May the Lord caress you with His tenderness”

Bishops, patriarchs, teachers, seminarians, nuns taking their final vows, kindergarten classes, Masses in churches throughout Kurdistan – today, now, where are these many friends with whom I shared so much?!

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And these friends – the nuns, but especially the little children – where are they? How are they? So many were from Mosul!