A special Mass for all those who have died or been injured in recent weeks in Iraq was held at Westminster Cathedral, in London, yesterday evening.
The service on Friday 26 November 2010 focused particularly on the bombing of Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad on 31 October 2010. But prayers were said for all minorities and victims of violence, whatever their background or creed.
During the Mass, the many Muslims who have also had to flee the country were also remembered in Bishop William Kenney's sermon - which contained a condemnation of the UK government's willingness to deport people back to Iraq.
The Mass, which was attended by the Iraqi Chargé d’Affaires to the UK, senior Iraqi Church leaders and Orthodox Christian Bishops, as well as members of the Iraqi community and aid agencies, was primarily an occasion to pray for peace, justice and hope for all the people of Iraq, the organisers said.
During the service, the Gospel was sung in Aramaic, which is believed to be the language that Jesus spoke, and which illustrates the deep roots of Christian faith in the Middle East - going back far further than its Western forms.
Catholic Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols celebrated the Cathedral eucharist. Bishop William Kenny, who is Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham, delivered the sermon.
Kenny declared: “Our emotions are of deep sorrow and possibly also of anger: anger that innocent people are killed in this way, that our friends, our relations are sacrificed for at best short term political gain, and at worst for no real reason at all, other than that they are followers of Jesus Christ.”
He continued: “We know the situation of our brothers and sisters still in Iraq who wake at night frightened by the knock at the door, the unusual sound, the gunshot or the explosion, the knowledge that few if any will defend them, the constant fear and tension of not knowing what will happen next. We who are here in England are angry when our Government said on Tuesday that it was safe for people to be repatriated to Iraq. You know in a way few others do how untrue that is.”
He added: "The Church in these countries is built on the witness of those put to death because they would not renounce their faith. The Catholic Christians of this country know something about the sorrow, the pride, the despair and the joy of martyrdom for the Faith.”
“Today it is not only our relations and friends whom we have come to mourn. We have also come to honour them as people who have been killed because of their faith. We must express our sorrow that this has happened, for Christ tells us that if we do not bear witness to the truth then the stones themselves will shout out the message. But that message is the message of the Gospel.”
A statement was read at the Mass on behalf of the Council of Christian Church-leaders of Iraq (CCCL) which said: “ On this Holy Occasion the pastors of the Christian Churches of Iraq call upon the civilized world and the peoples of good will to pray for the entire population of Iraq and for its Christian Communities who have witnessed and suffered in the cause of their faith for so long, the massacre at the Syrian Catholic Church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad on October 31st 2010 not being the last.”
The full text of Bishop William Kenney's sermon is available here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/13654