Pope Francis, hope for a “true” Arab spring, says Chaldean patriarch

For Mar Louis Raphael I Sako, the pope’s election was a “surprise” by the “Holy Spirit”. His experience under Argentina’s military dictatorship and his dialogue with Muslims and Jews are important factors because he “will be able to encourage people to believe in change, and not give in to desperation and discouragement,” the patriarch said. He will also enhance the value of mission for the universal Church.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – The election of Pope Francis “was an important event for the Chaldean Church, Middle East Christians and the countries that went through the Arab spring” because his witness “will direct and guide people from the winter to a true spring,” said His Beatitude Mar Louis Raphael I Sako, patriarch of the Iraq’s Chaldean Church, as he spoke to AsiaNews about the election to the petrine throne of Argentina’s Jorge Bergoglio, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires.

For the new pontiff, the violence and hardship endured by his South American nation in the recent past, including the years under a murderous military dictatorship, are a fundamental part of the new pontiff’s make-up. “It is a positive aspect because he personally experienced these times and will thus be able to encourage people to believe in change, and not give in to desperation and discouragement,” the patriarch explained.

The election of an Argentinean “surprised everybody, given his origin and age,” Mar Louis Raphael I said. “It must be the choice of the Holy Spirit who wanted him at the helm of the Church at such critical and difficult times.”

His simplicity, kindness and straight-to-the-heart way of speaking have touched a chord in all of us. “He does not speak from scripted notes, but straight from the heart,” an attitude that “has left deep marks on our people.”

Enthroned on 6 March in Baghdad, after his election in the Chaldean conclave in Rome last January, His Beatitude said that he would be in Rome “for the pontificate’s inaugural Mass next Tuesday, feast day of Saint Joseph.”

“We feel his closeness because he comes from a region, Latin America, that has many problems similar to our own: poverty, crisis, and strong-arm politics. Pope Francis knows a lot about the value of justice, peace, freedom and human dignity. For this reason, he will be close to the Arab world and its Christians.”

In fact, the Chaldean patriarch noted, the new pontiff was a promoter of interfaith dialogue with Muslims and Jews when he was at the helm of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires. “He is a man of dialogue and exchange who goes beyond dogmas and speaks through closeness and friendship.”

For Patriarch Sako, the Jesuit pope has already breathed renewed life in mission. “He has well demonstrated that the Church’s universality is not limited to one country, language, or ethnic group, that it is open-minded, evidence of the greatness of serving the Gospel.”

On behalf of Iraqi Christians, the patriarch said that “we are close and loyal to him. He is our father and our supreme pastor. When he speaks, all of the Churches of the world, even the smallest like ours in Iraq, share this sense of universality, which is a source of confidence and hope.” (DS)