Pope Francis said Thursday that he wears around his neck a cross that once belonged to an Iraqi priest who was beheaded for his faith.
Speaking to a convention of 5,000 young monks and nuns, he began his remarks by urging attention to “our martyrs in Iraq and Syria, our martyrs of today.” He explained how “a few days ago” a Middle Eastern priest approached him with the artifact that belonged to his martyred brother. Pointing to his chest, Francis said, “I carry this cross with me here,” under his official robes. (RELATED: 13-Month Gap Ends As US Official Named To Help ISIS’ Christian Victims)
The World Meeting for Young Consecrated Men and Women also featured a question-and-answer session with the pope, which included a question by a priest from Aleppo, Syria. But instead of focusing on the onslaught facing his community, the priest asked about the personal call from God that led Francis to become a priest.
Francis has often highlighted the plight of the Middle East’s Christians. American advocates for that community have urged the government to officially recognize Islamic State’s campaign against religious minorities as a genocide, and hope that Francis’ upcoming visit to the United States will be an opportunity to renew the government’s effort to help them. (RELATED: What The Christian Relatives Of ISIS Victims Actually Want)
In Thursday’s gathering, Francis also mentioned that in 2015, Christians “have more martyrs than in the first centuries” after Jesus’ ministry, when they faced systematic persecution by the Roman Empire.
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