Cardinal Wuerl celebrates the Mass for Peace, Religious Freedom and Tolerance on the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle
Today the Church celebrates the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven. The lessons of this celebration are many. The Blessed Virgin Mary, one of us, a human being, has been so filled with grace as to be taken up bodily into heaven. This action is a sign of our own bodily resurrection one day.
The Solemnity of the Assumption also teaches us that Mary now sits at the right hand of her Son and intercedes for us. We turn to her and ask her help in presenting our needs to Jesus, her Son and our Lord.
Thus today we come to her as Queen of Peace and beg her assistance as we cry out to her Son to let the grace that so filled her touch the hearts of men and women around the world and particularly in the Middle East and most specifically Iraq.
Every day we learn more about the atrocities perpetrated against Christians and others in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East. It is almost incomprehensible that today, in organized military action, Muslim extremists are torturing and killing unarmed Christian women and children, attempting forced conversions to Islam and inflicting every type of inhumanity on fellow human beings.
In light of the growing crisis for Iraqi Christians and others, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and agencies of the Holy See have been increasingly insistent in their calls for peace and for humanitarian response to the new waves of refugees fleeing terror and death.
This week the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue issued a statement noting that, “This Pontifical Council, together with all those engaged in interreligious dialogue, followers of all religions and all men and women of good will, can only unambiguously denounce and condemn these practices which bring shame on humanity.” What follows is a long list of atrocities that you can find in the copy of this statement available following Mass.
On Sunday Pope Francis met with Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, who was recently appointed by the Pope as his personal envoy to Iraq to demonstrate the Holy Father’s closeness to the Iraqi population, especially to Christians who have been severely affected by the continuing conflict and who are in dire need of help and encouragement.
The Pope reiterated his own sentiments about the tragic events that are unfolding in Iraq – sentiments that he has publically expressed many times over the past days. The Pope also gave Cardinal Filoni a significant sum of money to be used for urgent assistance to the people who have been most severely affected. This is a concrete sign of the Pope’s concern in responding to this dramatic situation.
One day earlier, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva, pointed out that Pope Francis and other members of the Christian community, including the World Council of Churches, are taking a strong stand in defense of the Iraqi Christians and their right to survive and to live in peace in their own homes which for the last 2,000 years has seen them active and contributing to the development of the region.
In the face of this systematic, organized and well-funded push by extremists to drive Christians and others from their homes, we cannot remain idle bystanders. First and foremost as people of faith, we turn to God in prayer on behalf of all of those who are suffering so much in this present crisis. But we need also to raise our voices in solidarity with our Holy Father as he calls on all people of good will to recognize this overwhelming human tragedy, to speak out against it and to urge all to proclaim that this inhuman behavior is unacceptable.
World media are reporting: the despicable practice of beheading, crucifying and hanging bodies in public places, the choice imposed on Christians and Yezidis between conversion to Islam, the payment of taxes or forced exile, and the list goes on.
We are gathered here today in prayer as a sign of our own communion with our Christian sisters and brothers and all those in Iraq who suffer so cruelly at the hands of these extremists. We pray first for all those who suffer so mightily at the hands of terrorists and extremists. We also pray that the international community stir itself to find ways to protect the innocent. And we also pray that peoples’ hearts be touched in that troubled part of the world so that toleration and religious freedom become accepted characteristics of whatever political order is established.
Peace can only come when there is mutual toleration among and between differing religious groups and when there is the recognition of religious freedom, religious liberty.
The branding of people, their thoughts, their religious convictions, their religious heritage and ethnic backgrounds, as unacceptable only fosters the intolerance that leads to hatred and that breeds violence.
On this Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is also the Queen of Peace, we pray as an expression of human and Christian solidarity. We also pray that our hearts be touched with compassion and courage. But we must never allow intolerance, bigotry, viciousness and hatred to infect us and our response to it.
As Christians, as disciples of Christ, while we clearly recognize the right and sometimes the obligation to defend ourselves, and the weak and innocent, we also recognize that true peace can only come out of hearts possessed of God’s grace and love. Let us never allow ourselves to be changed by the violence, hatred and extremism of others.
Our prayers today are for peace, for religious liberty, for toleration and that even in the face of outrages we remain a people with faith in the power of prayer and hope that God’s grace can touch and change every human heart.
Today let us join our Holy Father in making another impassioned appeal that the whole Church and all the faithful raise up with one voice of ceaseless prayer invoking the intercession of Blessed Virgin Mary as we implore God to send the gift of peace. Amen.