Erbil (AsiaNews) - Iraqi Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus in "difficult and painful circumstances," away from their homes and cities, like displaced people. However, the festivity brought "new hope" because "we can rebuild what has been damaged, reform what has been ruined, reunite what has been divided," said His Beatitude Mar Raphael Louis Sako I in his message to the faithful in the homily he delivered during Christmas Mass.
In it, Mar Sako emphasised the Church's closeness to those who lost homes and land due to the advance of the Islamic State militant group, stressing that their pain and suffering have not been forgotten. On the contrary, he looks forward to a future of peace, brotherhood, harmony and unity.
For this to happen, the Chaldean Patriarch noted, it is necessary for the United States and the West to reconsider their foreign policy. For him, "the use of weapons does not make true reforms," which require instead "courageous and civilised dialogue."
Here below is Mar Sako's message sent to AsiaNews:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We celebrate today the birth of Jesus Christ in such difficult and painful circumstances. We celebrate it while we are displaced from our houses and cities, but this is not the end of the world. His birth revives hope in us that we may return to what we had to leave behind, to rebuild what has been damaged, reform what has been ruined, reunite what has been divided, and bring back home those who have been displaced. Was not Jesus born away from his hometown and house? Was not He persecuted and moved to Egypt then came back?
The birth of Jesus Christ means the coming of God, a real encounter with Him at a close distance, an incarnation of His love to all people in our life through which he encourages us so that we experience his birth individually and collectively. It is a second birth from heaven above. Christmas is the beginning of a new project, the mission of this child, the saviour, through which God's glory and peace are revealed to humanity: "Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth". This child is the sign of God's glory, and peace is the reflection of heaven. Glory and peace are not a mere wish, but an aim of a real project of a long process, which we try achieve first in our hearts and second all around us. Hence, we extinguish the dark clouds of disintegration, division, and conflicts, spreading instead, the sparkle of peace, love, brotherhood, freedom, dignity, and civilization. Once we make of the Christmas message the target of our thoughts, education, and work program, we will live in peace and harmonic coexistence.
Our situation is still critical and tragic and our displaced Christians, Muslims, Yezidis, and Shabak brothers see the unavailability of a quick solution in sight. Thanks to the church and people of good will, the Christians are living in small rooms or caravans, but psychologically, they are still worried about their towns, their homes, jobs and fear for their lives and their children's future. They are in need to be reassured that they are not alone and abandoned or forgotten. Therefore, I kindly ask you to pray for them so that they keep their courage, hope and trust in God, their father. I wanted to celebrate Christmas Mass with them in the middle of a tent in their camp, expressing how close is the Church to them, and how ready and willing it is to serve and help them.
We are so grateful for all the given efforts from inside and outside the country that were open enough to extend a hand for those displaced people in their time of crisis, demonstrating the spirit of understanding, friendship, solidarity.
Christianity should remain in this blessed land as a message of love and tolerance as Christ wanted it. We are determined to continue our love for all our citizens without exception and to live with them in peace and security. We yearn for returning to our homes and towns, hoping that they would be soon liberated and well protected. This is our land, our history, and our identity. For us this is our promised land.
We also wish from the bottom of our hearts that a civilian and political system will be established in Iraq, which secures the rights of all Iraqis, preserves their dignity, and bring them justice, which is the basis of peace. This new system will only be achieved through increasing awareness of the seriousness of the extremist movements that destroy and kill man and burn civilization in the name of God. Only by adopting sound and educational programs that teach the individual the meaning of love, goodness, respect for diversity, and human rights can help make this new construction possible.
Also, the United States and the West have to reconsider their Foreign policies toward the Middle East. The current conflicts are in nobody's favour; the use of weapons does not make true reforms, but through courageous and civilized dialogue. There is a need for a new vision and a more realistic and just processing of the issues taking place in the Middle East.
Dearly Beloveds, in the Annunciation, the Angel of the Lord said to Mary "Fear not", saying the same thing to Joseph and to the shepherds. Today, in the midst of our plight, Jesus tells us too: "Do not be afraid, little flock." It is the precise moment in which we have to renew our faith in God, trust in each other, and our cooperation with all people of good will in the world with the belief that at the core of pain a new ray of hope is revived. This is our Christmas and this is our faith. Have a Blessed Christmas and long live Iraq!
*Louis Raphael Sako, Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon and president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Iraq