Iraqi Christians worshipping at the Divine Liturgy on Easter Sunday 2013 at Mar Youseff Chaldean Catholic Church in Baghdad (AP photo/Karim Kadim)
I began a new icon yesterday, the Mother of God of Korsun. It is an icon that I have painted more than once and I base the icon on the cartoon originally drawn by my teacher, Fr.Egon Sendler.
I had been planning to paint this icon for some time, but I received added impetus on Saturday when I encountered a group of visitors to the Cathedral while I was vesting to serve at Mass in the morning. They were Chaldean Catholics, originally from Iraq but now living in California. We spoke briefly, when I told them that I pray every day for Iraqi Christians and the Church in Iraq, they thanked me but said,don't forget to pray for Christians in Syria and for the Syrian people caught up in the civil war there.
They joined the rosary that was being prayed in the church but they could not stay for Mass. One of the women in the group approached me and asked, "Deacon, we have to leave, but could we receive Holy Communion?" In Iraq their family members and friends, the faithful and their bishops, priests, deacons and sub-deacons risk their lives each time they gather for the Eucharist. "Of course", I said.
Saturday was the feast of St. Lawrence, martyred in Rome in the 3rd century. They knelt devoutly in the sanctuary to receive Holy Communion. Looking at them I could only think of the modern day marytrs of Iraq, those who are relatively well known like Archbishop Faraj Rahho and Fr. Ragheed Ghanni and the many other martyrs who are known only to their families and neighbors.
They asked me to bless them, which I did, in the name of the Church and we made our goodbyes. Their presence was a blessing and a living reminder to remember our brothers and sisters in Iraq, to pray for them and to support the work of charities such as Aid to the Church in Need, Catholic Near East Welfare Association and Catholic Relief Services, who provide material and spiritual aid to the Christian churches of Iraq.
So as always, the work of icon is rooted in prayer. For this icon of the Mother of God my prayer intention is for Iraqi Christians and the Chaldean Catholics and other Oriental Orthodox and Protestant communities in Iraq, for their safety and survival and for an increase in our solidarity with them, so that they know they are not forgotten by their brothers and sisters in the rest of the Church.
Mary, Help of Christians, pray for us!