by Dario Salvi
Mar Sako is in Rome for ROACO’s 86th Plenary Assembly to talk about the violence in Syria and the Middle East. Calling on Christians to show the positive side of the separation of Church and state that “respects religion”, he says it is different from Western secularism. Politics “seeks oil,” the Church “seeks people.” He renews the invitation to Pope Francis to visit the Christians in the region.
Rome (AsiaNews) – People want “peace and stability” and Muslims are “afraid of tension and violence,” but the “Sunni-Shia divide”, ethnic divisions and foreign influence are a wall that make true reconciliation appear impossible, this according to His Beatitude Mar Raphael I Louis Sako, Chaldean Patriarch, who spoke to AsiaNews on the margins of the 86th Plenary Assembly of the Reunion of Aid for the Oriental Churches (ROACO), currently underway in Rome.
The dramatic situation in Syria and the growing insecurity in the Middle East dominated the discussions at the ROACO assembly, which was set up in 1968 to coordinate the work of Eastern Churches.
Such situations, the patriarch noted, raise “fears and concerns, especially after the abduction of two bishops”, whose fate has been “unknown for a long time, even to the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch”.
At the same time, one of the basic elements of Middle Eastern societies has been the “absence of perspectives on the separation of state and religion,” His Beatitude said, that would provide the bases to set out a clear “demarcation between state, politics and religion.”
In the region, political and government institutions have “a strong Islamic identity”. And a “sense of fear towards Western culture, seen as too liberal and amoral,” has been developing.
The Chaldean Patriarch spoke on a notion that, in this case, is widely held in Iraq and beyond, namely the idea that “Christianity has failed” in moral and spiritual terms and that “Islam was under attack”.
In view of this, Mar Sako called on the Church and faithful to show its positive face, because “it is up to Christians to speak positively about the separation of state and religion, one that is respectful of religion, far from Western anti-religious secularism.”
For him, the ongoing violence in the country, which recently saw more than 30 people killed in a suicide bombing attack against a Shia prayer hall in the area north of Baghdad, is part of “a power struggle” that has been exacerbated by “divisions in the government.”
At the same time, fragmentation and conflict are spreading to the whole region, like “the current situation in Syria, which has serious repercussions and further complications for Iraq.”
For His Beatitude, a “plan of division of the country laid out by the Americans” is progressing, taking shape through clashes between “ethnic and religious groups”. Increasingly, each one is pushing its cause at the expense of the whole,” he added.
What is needed instead is the strength to unite people around a common goal, whether it is the Iraqi nation, Iraqi citizenship or the human person with all his rights”.
Although ordinary people and families, “live together, side by side . . ., politics is stronger and can constantly create divisions and walls.”
For the future, His Beatitude wants to see greater support coming from the Holy See and the international community in favour of reconciliation, as encouragement for “Christians to stay, make plans, and improve villages and infrastructure.”
“The Church must do more,” Chaldean patriarch explained, “not just with words, but with real human, spiritual and moral solidarity. Muslims expect a lot from us. Whilst Western policy might pursue oil and its interests, the Church is and must always be attentive to the people. ”
For this reason, he renewed the invitation made to Pope Francis to visit the Middle East and Iraq, to go where need is, where Christians are persecuted and distressed as Jesus did.
“Before it is a state,” Mar Sako said, “the Vatican is the Church and the pope is our shepherd. Pope Francis is well aware of that.”