Mar Sako: Nomination as cardinal, sign of Pope’s friendhip and proximity to all Iraq

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The Chaldean primate describes the “dual responsibility” because it indicates the Pope’s closeness to Christians and to all the people. A choice that “surprised” him and attests to Pope’s great care for the Church in difficulty. Congratulations from Christian and Muslim personalities. Shiite leader: “Gift of mercy for Iraq”. Al-Sadr wins election but does not have the numbers to form a government.

BAGHDAD: A “dual responsibility”, confirming Pope Francis’ “support for the Chaldean Church, for its Christians” and, at the same time, for “all Iraq, for ??its people. That’s why I will do all I can to serve these people, in a critical time”, says Chaldean Patriarch Mar Louis Raphael Sako.

Speaking to AsiaNews, in the wake of the pontiff’s decision to raise the primate of the Iraqi Church to the rank of cardinal, he says the news was “a surprise, I heard it while I was at lunch with my secretary, who was contacted from Italy”. The news “made a deep impression on me”.

Yesterday at the end of the Regina Caeli Pope Francis announced a consistory scheduled for June 29, for the creation of 14 new cardinals. Of these, three cardinals are Asian: his Beatitude Louis Raphael Sako, patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, (Iraq); Msgr. Joseph Coutts, archbishop of Karachi, (Pakistan); Msgr. Thomas Aquinas Manyo, archbishop of Osaka, Japan.

As happened in the past with the nomination of the apostolic nuncio in Syria, Mario Zenari, the first cardinal’s cap assigned to a diplomat on a mission, the pontiff confirmed his attention for the Churches of the Middle East, victims of war, persecution and suffering.

“This decision – says Mar Sako – confirms the pope’s attention to difficult situations, his being a father for all. Often he said ‘I will go where needed’ and as in Syria, even today with Iraq the decision to create a cardinal shows his real closeness to the country and to the people”.

The Chaldean primate believes that the nomination will be “a source of encouragement” and “will help me to be more effective in defending the weakest and in demanding justice. “It will be a source of strength – he adds – in my service for all, following the model of Pope Francis and thanking him for his friendship, for his closeness”.

The appointment as cardinal was greeted with joy by political leaders, religious authorities and citizens of all Iraq, Christians and Muslims, who since yesterday continue to send messages of congratulations to the new cardinal. ” Many Muslim religious, Sunni and Shiite have called me – confirms Mar Sako – and they too describe it as an honor for them. Which is for all Iraqis, they say, even for us Muslims”. Among the many messages, he continues, I was struck by “a Shiite cleric, who told me that this appointment is a gift for all the faithful, it is a gift of mercy for Iraq”.

On 31 January 2013 the then archbishop of Kirkuk, Mgr Sako was elected new Chaldean patriarch, succeeding Emmanuel Delly III who had resigned because of age. Born on 4 July 1948 in Zakho, northern Iraq, Mar Sako was ordained priest on 1 June 1974.As prelate, then as a primate of the Iraqi Church, he has repeatedly denounced the exodus of Christians from the country and made several appeals to the central government and local authorities to guarantee Christians a peaceful future in their land of origin.

In recent weeks, Christians and Muslims, in Iraq and in the world, have promoted his candidacy for the Nobel Peace Prize 2018. A further recognition of the work in favor of peace, cohabitation, reconciliation of the primate of the Chaldean Church, as a bishop and today as patriarch. An essential task, in a nation still marked by violence, internal conflicts and sectarian divisions.

Over the weekend the Chaldean patriarch called Muqtada al-Sadr, congratulating him on his victory at the recent political elections. A success confirmed by official data released on May 19, which saw the radical Shiite leader in front of the outgoing premier Haider al-Abadi. However, no party or movement achieved 50 seats in Parliament; thus it will be difficult for al-Sadr, allied with the communists (together they can count on 54 seats out of a total of 329), to be able to find the numbers necessary to form the government.

Commenting on the outcome of the vote, Mar Sako wishes “the best successes” to those who have won so that they can “take on” the task of serving the country with a sense of “responsibility”. He hopes that the new executive will “treat everyone the same way”, open a “new page” in relations between the various political factions and operate to “improve Iraq from all points of view”. The Chaldean patriarch strongly calls for a “new political process” that leads to “safeguarding the rights of citizens”, defending rights and freedoms, consolidating unity among Iraqis and giving priority to the “reconstruction” of destroyed houses, buildings and activities and the return of displaced people “after long suffering”. He does not spare reproaches for Christian leaders who have “dispersed” votes and consent in myriad lists for personal gain, urging them to “develop a new vision and regain unity” in the face of future challenges. Finally, he asks the five new Christian parliamentarians to “work as one team”, establishing “excellent relations” with colleagues in Parliament. –Asia News