by Joseph Mahmoud
Mar Sako meets Sheikh Rafi Taha Al-Rifai in Sulayamaniyya, Iraqi Kurdistan . A “courtesy” visit to strengthen friendly relations between religious leaders and communities. His Beatitude speaks of the plight of Christians in reception centers and appeals for mutual “harmony”.
Baghdad ( AsiaNews) – A “courtesy” visit to strengthen relations of friendship and “brotherhood” between the Christian and Muslim communities, as well as to “broaden” the foundations of “joint action” to achieve the goal of a “lasting peace” in the country . This was the spirit that animated the meeting between the Chaldean Patriarch Mar Louis Raphael I Sako and Sheikh Rafi Taha Al- Rifai, the Grand Mufti of Iraq at the residence of Muslim religious leader in Sulayamaniyya, the capital of the governorate of al- Sulaymaniyya, Iraqi Kurdistan .
The meeting dates back to Jan. 31 , but details only recently emerged on the official website of the Chaldean Patriarchate, describing the atmosphere of the face-to- face meeting between the two religious leaders and common objectives that were set. The Christian delegation also included the Apostolic Nuncio in Iraq Archbishop Giorgio Lingua , the auxiliary bishop Msgr. Shlemon Warduni and the three new recently ordained bishops of the Chaldean Church.
His Beatitude briefed the Islamic leader on the sufferings of the Christian community, past and present, also stressing “the common task ” of religious leaders , of “sacrifice, dialogue and mutual understanding ” and action aimed at “the common good” and “charity ” as prescribed by “the dictates of Islam and Christianity”. Violence adds Mar Sako, does not solve problems, “but it is a harbinger of further violence.”
The Patriarch spoke of the drama “of the exodus of Christians” and the “pain” experienced during the visit to “reception centers in Kirkuk and Erbil ” in northern Iraq. He finally appealed to “our Muslim brothers, Sunnis and Shiites, to judge wisely the current reality” and promote “mutual coexistence and harmony”.
Sheikh Rafi Taha Al- Rifai thanked Mar Sako and the Christian delegation for the courtesy visit and stressed from the beginning of his speech, the central value “of the person” , an element common to both religions. The Sunni leader described relations between Muslims and Christians as “good”, characterized by “sharing” with one another even though today there are elements that foment ” divisions”.
The meeting between the two religious leaders is a strong signal in the direction of peace in a country often torn by violence and that in these first weeks of 2014 has already reached a level of serious concern. Hundreds have died since the beginning of the year, in a series of bloody attacks , tension has now reached the levels of 2005/6 : in 2013 the official death toll was 8,868 .