Chaldean leader: Pope’s Iraq visit ‘will leave great impact’

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Pope Francis is greeted by people on the podium at the square near the ruins of the al-Tahira-l-Kubra church, in Mosul on March 7, 2021. (AFP)
Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako accompanied Francis throughout
‘He has delivered a message of comfort and peace that was so powerful’
ROME: The visit that Pope Francis paid to Iraq “will leave a great impact on … our country,” said Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church. Sako accompanied the pope throughout the March 5-8 visit, which went off without a hitch despite security worries and a second wave of coronavirus cases in the country.

The 84-year-old pontiff covered more than 1,400 km inside Iraq, bringing encouragement to its diminished Christian community and extending a hand to Shiite Muslims by meeting top cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani.

Sako told Vatican Radio: “The mentality here is changing in terms of respect for others, the elimination of violence and fundamentalism.”

He added: “Iraqis are moderate by nature. They have been influenced by a fundamentalism coming from outside our country. I am sure that they will return to their good nature.”

The pope’s visit “will have an impact on political life in terms of peace and stability, also in view of the next elections. It will be a real change,” said Sako, adding that Iraqi politicians listened to Francis “with great interest.”

The pope “spoke with his heart, showing real interest in the Iraqi people. He freely chose to stay three days here and share their suffering and hope with them,” Sako said.

“He has delivered a message of comfort and peace that was so powerful … Many Muslims, including some high-ranking local politicians, approached me during the visit and said, ‘You have a treasure, a father so humble, who listens to and loves people’.”

Right before boarding the flight back to Rome, the pope had a private meeting at Baghdad International Airport with Iraqi President Barham Salih and his wife.

In an official telegram after leaving Iraqi soil, the pope expressed “once more deep gratitude” to Salih and “the beloved people of Iraq for the warm welcome and generous hospitality extended to me during my stay. With fervent good wishes and prayers for the peace, unity and prosperity of the nation, I invoke upon all the copious blessings of the most High God.”