Francis’ words are “beautiful” and “moving,” said Mar Sako, expressing “profound suffering” and “closeness”. They are the voice of a prophet who embraces a community that is preparing to celebrate Christmas under tents. The pope’s “spiritual closeness” is “even stronger than the physical distance.”
Erbil (AsiaNews) – It is a “very beautiful, moving letter, in which one feels profound suffering but, at the same time, closeness” to the Iraqi people, and the Christian refugees who will celebrate Christmas Night under tents,” said Chaldean Patriarch Raphael I Mar Louis Sako, who spoke to AsiaNews about Pope Francis’ Letter to the Christians of the Middle East, released yesterday for Christmas.
Through his words, “I feel deep down that he fulfils his role as head of the Church and as a father,” noted His Beatitude, who is currently in Erbil prepare for Midnight Mass. With a “mind that thinks and suffers, he is also a father with very noble, deep and spiritual feelings, which give courage and hope.”
Yesterday, the pope issued a long letter addressed to the Christians of Iraq – only direct reference to a state – and the Middle East, stressing that their suffering and that of other religious and ethnic groups “cries out to God.”
Persecution and suffering, says the pope, require “a clear and courageous stance on the part of all religious leaders,” even Muslim ones who must condemn it “unanimously and without any ambiguity.”
Equally, he expresses closeness to those who suffer and encourages the “testimony they give,” even when they show the “ecumenism of the blood.”
The patriarch said that he read the pope’s letter “during the flight from Baghdad to Erbil” and “I immediately felt that he was an oracle. He was the voice of a prophet, like Ezekiel or Jeremiah. His were the words of a pope who speaks from the heart. Every word was meaningful; it was an oracle from Francis to the Christians of the East.”
The patriarch used AsiaNews to announce the letter after he met with Francis at the Vatican in mid-October.
The faithful are currently preparing for the solemn Midnight Mass (actually starting at 9 pm), which will be celebrated under a tent in the refugee camps in Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, with a capacity of 2,000 people. Various TV stations will broadcast the service across the Middle East.
“We are experiencing an atmosphere of anticipation, joy and great happiness,” Mar Sako said.
In his homily, the prelate will talk about the papal letter, which has already been posted on the website of the Chaldean Patriarchate.
“The pope will not be physically present but his spiritual closeness is even stronger than the physical distance,” His Beatitude explained.
“His is a presence that is felt, with an immediate impact, like the style used in the letter: direct, biblical, with numerous citations, a global text, full, deeply reflecting our condition, yet a source of courage and hope.”
Francis’ words “are short pleas,” Mar Sako added, “flashes of light that help open one’s eyes, leading and encourage us to commit with a new spirit and heart.”
“It is an ecumenical letter,” he went on to say, “addressed to everyone, Catholic, Orthodox, but also Muslims, who must be more courageous” in dialogue and in condemning the violence perpetrated by the Islamic state and other Islamic fundamentalist organisations.
In it, the pope also appeals to politicians, who “must fulfil their duty and commitments” so that everyone can “live in peace and joy.”
“We are honoured and blessed by the pope,” Mar Sako said. He is a “man so close [to us] and bright, with a big heart. He is one of a kind, someone who cannot be reduced to any of categories we use in the Church. He is for everyone, as Jesus was for everyone, and this is what it means to be a shepherd.” (DS)