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Pope Francis calls priest serving at Iraqi refugee camp

Pope Francis calls priest serving at Iraqi refugee camp

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis called a priest at a refugee camp in Iraq to express his closeness to the persecuted Christians who have taken refuge there and to promise his continued support.

Pope Francis reportedly called Fr Behnam Benoka on August 19, a day after returning from his apostolic journey to South Korea. Fr Benoka is a priest of Bartella, a small Christian town near Mosul, and the vice-rector of the Catholic seminary in Ankawa. However, he is currently working at a refugee camp in the north of the country, assisting Christians who fled the violence perpetrated against them by Islamic militants.

During the morning telephone call, the Pope reportedly said he was deeply moved by the letter he had received from Fr Benoka a day earlier. According to a report published by Zenit, the Pope received the letter from the hands of a journalist, who is a friend of the priest, on the flight back to Rome from South Korea.

The Pope also expressed to Fr Benoka his gratitude for the volunteers working in the refugee camps and reiterated his full support and closeness to the persecuted Christians, promising that he will continue to do his best to bring relief to their suffering.

In his letter to the Pope, the priest expressed gratitude for the Pope’s repeated appeals to end the suffering and persecution of Christians and described the tragic situation faced by thousands of Iraqi Christians: “The situation of your sheep is miserable. They die and they are hungry. Your little ones are scared and cannot do it anymore. We, priests, religious, are few and fear not being able to meet the physical and mental needs of your and our children.”

“Your Holiness,” he continued, “I’m afraid of losing your children, especially infants who every day struggle and weaken more. I’m afraid that death will snatch some away. Send us your blessing so that we may have the strength to go on and maybe we can still resist.”

The Pope granted Fr Benoka’s request, concluding the telephone call by imparting his apostolic blessing and asking the Lord to grant them the gift of perseverance in the faith.

Listen to the report by Andrew Summerson

(From archive of Vatican Radio)