Pope Francis has again spoken of his admiration for suffering Christians around the world, saying “a Church without martyrs, dare I say, is a Church without Jesus”.

“Martyrs are the ones who carry the Church forward,” he said, as he presided over Mass in the Vatican on 30 January. “The greatest strength of the Church today is in the small churches – really small, with a few people, persecuted, with their bishop in prison. This is our glory and strength today.”

He also said persecuted Christians are the “humiliation” of the wider Church – “we who have everything, everything seems easy for us and if we lack something, we complain”.

Meanwhile, an Iraqi priest forced to flee his town in 2014 by Islamic State forces told the Catholic News Agency that the experience had taught his community what it really means to be a Christian.

“What we have witnessed is a message for us, so we may reconsider what the objectives of being Christian should be, what it means to live as a Christian to the fullest, not through empty words, and not as something that can be carried away by the wind,” Fr. Karam Shamasha told CNA.

He said that he and the other Christians of Telskuf, near Mosul, were faced with a choice: “stick to our faith, or renounce it so we could keep our property and our belongings”.

“All of us, may God be praised, all of us 120,000 Christians decided to stick to our faith and leave everything else behind. This was for us a test of our faith,” he said.