A week ago, over 200 young Catholics gathered at St. Ferdinand Parish on Chicago’s northwest side for a day of prayer and reflection on their role as peacemakers. They were from families of Polish origin and many of them regularly attend the Saturday schools where they learn both the Polish language and culture along with receiving catechesis on the Catholic faith. I spoke to them about being friends with Jesus, who “is our peace” (Eph 2:14). I was echoing the invitation given by Pope Benedict XVI to the youth of the world when he invited them to join him in Madrid, Spain, this coming August for the celebration of World Youth Day. The pope wrote that young people should ground their lives in Christ, who is the foundation for human hope; and then he spoke about his personal encounter with Jesus as a young person, of how he met the Lord in the sacraments of the church that unites us to him through a “great chain of believers,” friends in the Lord over the ages. Just a few days before I met with Polish young people here, I met in Rome two of the Catholic bishops from Iraq who had come for the synod called to discuss the situation of the church throughout the Middle East. The Catholics in these lands belong to ancient churches dating back 2,000 years, long before the birth of Mohammed and the coming of Islam to that part of the world. Now, in Iraq, Christians feel threatened, and many have fled their country in order to search for a peaceful life. They feel that the world has abandoned them and asked if a delegation of bishops from the United States could visit them. In reporting to the synod about the situation of the church in Iraq, one bishop said that, since 2003, 51 churches have been attacked, one bishop and three priests kidnapped and murdered and about a thousand Christians have been killed, while hundred of thousands have fled their homes in search of a safe place. Since there is no stable government in Iraq, it is to the international community that the Christians of Iraq make their appeal. As another bishop explained: “We are coming out of decades of dictatorship that did not allow us to know what the common good is, what a people-serving government is. We need political and social catechesis. The real problems of Iraq have not been addressed yet, the unity of the region, the sharing of resources and the problem of relations between Arabs and Kurds.” The Catholics of the Middle East are our friends in the Lord, and friends share the lot of their friends. Their concerns in living their faith are ours. Their desire for peace is a challenge to us. The concern for religious freedom is universal, but it is particularly acute in Iraq at this time. Because we are becoming more aware of threats to religious freedom in our own country, where religion’s role in public life is more and more contested, we can better appreciate the plight of Iraq Christians. The Lord promised that his followers would be persecuted, because they are to share in his life and death before coming to share in his resurrection. While praying for peace in the Middle East, and praying for peace as well on our streets and in our homes and hearts, we should actively support those who are working for peace in the Middle East. That was the invitation I gave the young people here a week ago: They are friends of the Lord and are called to be instruments of his peace. So are we all. God bless you.