by Dario Salvi
Today the Chaldean primate will receive a red hat from Pope Francis. It is a sign of “support” for the Eastern Churches and a further invitation “to dialogue and reconciliation”. The hope that “Christian schools, clinics, institutes and hospitals” may also arise in Iraq as a tangible sign of the community’s presence. The beatification of Fr. Ragheed “example of sacrifice that bears fruit”.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Strengthening the unity of Christians, relaunching the principle of citizenship as an element common to all Iraqis and supporting the work of rebuilding homes and people, devastated by war and jihadist violence. These are the objectives set by the Chaldean Patriarch Mar Louis Raphael Sako, who today receives the cardinal’s beretto from Pope Francis. And the commitment to shortly appoint a priest for the parish of St. Paul in Mosul. A “strong and authoritative” personality assures the new cardinal who “will be chosen by the end of the summer” and who is a sign of “stability”.
AsiaNews met the Chaldean primate a few hours before the ceremony. Here is what he shared with us:
Patriarch Sako, what value does a cardinal have for the Church in Iraq?
With this choice Pope Francis wanted to send a strong signal of support to the Eastern Churches. The appointment goes in this direction. It is also a message to Iraqi Christians, for us it means: ‘Even if I cannot come, I am near you, I encourage you to stay and hope, to be patient, commit yourself to changing the situation’. It is an appeal to the Iraqi political class: everyone knows the importance and influence that the Vatican exercises at an international level. Muslims have taken this nomination as a further invitation to reconciliation, dialogue, common commitment to the rebirth of our nation. A choice with a high symbolic value, as the appointment as cardinal of the apostolic nuncio in Syria, Mario Zenari was also at the time.
What are your goals for the near future?
First of all, the unity of Christians, which touches our hearts because of the profound fragmentation that has characterized our Church for a long time. And again, the unity of Iraqis as citizens with equal rights and equal duties, according to the principle of citizenship. Finally, working for a better future starting from material and cultural reconstruction. In this sense it is important to have a greater presence at the level of relations with the Western Church, cultural exchange, the birth of Christian institutes, schools, clinics and hospitals, as is already the case in the other nations of the area (Syria and Lebanon). For too long we felt isolated, so it is important that today we open ourselves up to the world and encourage more and more people from the outside. We need to help this Chaldean Church, which is among the oldest, to be a visible sign through works and projects.
A rebirth that can start from Mosul, a long stronghold of the Islamic State (IS, ex Isis) and where the worst jihadist atrocities have taken place?
Exactly! To revive Mosul, we must rebuild homes and houses, to encourage people to come back. But it is also necessary to rebuild the people, first of all on the psychological and social level, with avenues of integration and discussion. Lastly, guarantee work, facilitating the resumption of commerce, industry, trade and micro-businesses along with local crafts.
What is the current situation in the city?
There is still a lot of destruction, but among Muslims themselves there is a new impulse to begin again, to react to the disasters of ISIS. It is necessary to educate people to open up, to guarantee the respect of the laws, to favor education and to avoid extremist drifts in matters of faith.
In this sense a return of Christians is fundamental, on the level of the faithful and clergy …
Of course, that’s why I will shortly appoint a priest for the parish of St. Paul in Mosul, who will return to live and reside there. He will be a strong and authoritative personality, and will be chosen by the end of the summer. Today the situation has changed and the time has come to rebuild the community, guaranteeing its stability. We want to send a strong message, to say that we are back, thus encouraging people to return, primarily university students.
The Vatican also recently approved the beginning of the process for the cause of beatification of Fr. Can Ragheed Ganni, does this instill trust and hope?
His story and his sacrifice, common to those of many other priests, deacons and bishops including Msgr. Rahho testify that the Iraqi Church is a continuous story of martyrs. This beatification process, which should end soon, will give new strength to the local community. It is a warning to make us understand that this blood is not poured out in vain, but it is the fruit of love and will bring peace.
Your Beatitude, the recent elections have led to a climate of uncertainty in the country, with allegations of fraud and appeals. What has the outcome been?
The situation is currently complicated and tense, struggles for power and money are in underway, corruption remains one of the country’s endemic ills. However, there are some clear signs: at the last elections there was the highest percentage of new candidates entering Parliament for the first time. And this frightens those who have held the reins of power up to now and this is also why they have raised all these rumours of fraud, accusations of rigging, disputes. But I am sure that in the end a strong government will be born, with a civilian footprint and free from sectarianism. Today there is a different mentality compared to the past, determined perhaps also by a general economic and moral crisis. Here, in my opinion, the current situation at world level is determined precisely by this crisis of values, especially among Christians, who struggle to claim their identity and belonging when faced with the pride shown by Muslims.
Patriarch Sako, how do you picture the immediate future for Iraq and its Church?
We live in a moment of great challenges, fears and hopes. We must continue the language of dialogue with Muslims, not on the basis of abstract principles at the academic level but according to a current, concrete relationship, which is lived day by day. We must try to help them to correct the extremist drifts, favouring the respect of all and the protection of the weakest and most marginalized realities. It may be a slow passage, but I believe in this little miracle and I see it also from the relationships that have been created not only between Pope Francis and great personalities of Islam, like the great imam of al-Azhar, but also locally with an ever deeper bond that has been created with the highest Sunni and Shiite authorities in Iraq. Defending with absolute words and examples absolute values ??such as human rights, religious freedom also and especially in countries with a Muslim majority, and the principle of citizenship separate from religion.