The Chaldean Patriarch of Baghdad, Cardinal Luis Raphael Sako, said that before Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq, everyone had experienced “extraordinary enthusiasm”. “We decorated our churches, but all Iraqis decorated all the cities,” he added.
From 5 to 8 March, the Pope will visit Baghdad, the city of Najaf, and he will also go to the Plain of Ur – the land of Abraham. He will celebrate mass in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish Autonomous District. He will also be in Mosul and the city of Karakosh on the Nineveh Plain, inhabited by Christians.
In an interview published on Wednesday with the Vatican missionary agency Fides, Cardinal Luis Raphael Sako emphasized that he saw a Muslim woman praying to the Mother of God in the cathedral in Baghdad. He quoted the woman’s words: “Thank God the Pope is coming. This visit is like the last hope for the Iraqis.”
– We decorated our churches, but all Iraqis decorated all the cities. There are Vatican flags and welcome posters everywhere, also in An Najaf, An-Nasiriya and in Mosul – a city that still appears with all its wounds, said the Chaldean Patriarch, listing the stages of Francis’ visit.
He also said that “Muslims composed songs to welcome the Pope.”
– Needless to say with force; the Pope comes and there is no fear, neither for him nor for the Iraqis. This visit is like a dream that comes true. And we are like children getting ready to party; from the largest to the youngest – noted Cardinal Sako, who will welcome the Pope in Baghdad on Friday.
He also drew attention to the pronunciation of the words of the Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Hussein al-Sistani on the poster presenting his image and the pope: “You are part of us, and we are part of you”. “This is a suggestive way of saying that we are brothers,” pointed out Cardinal Luis Sako.
During his visit, the Pope will meet Ayatollah al-Sistani in Najaf.
“He’s not coming to fuel sectarianism”
The head of the Chaldean Church in Iraq also explained that the pope “is not coming to defend and protect Christians.” – The Pope is not an army commander. Of course, Francis will cheer Christians, bring them comfort and hope to help them survive, hope and cooperate with other citizens. The Pope cannot do anything else, he said.
– He is not coming to fuel sectarianism as others do. It comes to all Iraqis, not just Christians. He knows that everyone has suffered, not just Christians. And as a shepherd, he will encourage Christians to stay, to have hope and to rebuild trust with others, added the dignitary of the Chaldean Church.
In his opinion, if it is said that there was a “genocide” in Iraq, it “affected everyone; Christians, and even more Yazidis, but also Shiites and Sunnis, and in large numbers.” – Christians should not be separated from others, the suffering of Christians should not be separated from the suffering of others, because in this way a sectarian mentality is fueled – assessed Cardinal Luis Raphael Sako. He is convinced that the Pope in Iraq will speak of human brotherhood.
– In Ur, during the interreligious meeting, he will repeat that we are brothers, because our faith in one God makes us brothers. He will tell enough wars, fundamentalisms and terrorism, he announced, referring to the event at the birthplace of Abraham, considered the father of the three great religions. According to the hierarch, “whoever uses the term ‘genocide’ often does so for political purposes.”
Main photo source: AHMED JALIL / PAP / EPA