Baghdad (AsiaNews) - "The pope's visit to the Middle East is a very strong spiritual experience for us," raising "our sense of optimism" for his presence "will be a blessing for us all," said Mgr Jean Benjamin Sleiman, Latin archbishop of Baghdad as he spoke about Benedict XVI's upcoming visit to lebanon (14-16 September). AsiaNews reached him by phone at the airport just before he left for Beirut to take part in the meeting between the pontiff and the Mideast Churches.
The papal visit comes at a time of renewed violence and tensions in the region, as evinced by the attacks against US embassies in Libya, Egypt and Yemen, caused ostensibly by a blasphemous movie about Islam made in the United States.
Mgr Sleiman told AsiaNews that he hoped that the political controversies of a "complicated world" do not drown out the pope's visit.
"He is bringing a message of communion and witness to the Churches that emerged from the Synod" held in October 2010 in the Vatican. "I hope he can pass this message on and that everyone will listen to it."
"If we apply it, there will be a lot of communion, hence unity and credibility," Baghdad's Latin archbishop said. "Unity and credibility" are the means to "revive hope" in the Christian community, because "that is our problem today."
Speaking about Islamic-Christian interfaith efforts, Mgr Sleiman said, "Relations with Muslims are taken seriously in the Vatican." The "Synod insisted a lot on these relations and this will certainly be the case in the Apostolic Exhortation."
"Problems that do exist come from elsewhere because it is not in the Middle East that movies and acts that cause tensions are made."
"We are paying for people who think that freedom means doing whatever they want, humiliate or attack others," he explained. "This applies to Muslims but also Catholics who are often humiliated in the name of so-called freedom." One example is singer Madonna who "uses Christian symbols and the pope in an insulting manner."
"Of course, we cannot respond to violence with violence. We cannot go to war," Mgr Sleiman noted. "We must instead go back to what is essential and understand that freedom is also respect for others."
Coming to the Iraqi Church and the thoughts that Benedict XVI's visit to the Middle East might bring, the prelate said that the fundamental problems "are unity and the need to give people confidence."
"When an Iraqi family whose origins date back to the first century says it no longer has any connection to the country, that is truly bad," he said bitterly. "Many are leaving not because they are persecuted or are in danger, but because they are scared and have no hope in the future."
"We must provide a credible message. If the Church applies the Apostolic Exhortation, it cannot but reap its fruit," Mgr Sleiman explained. "Both the Chaldean Church, which is the largest, and the independent Churches are important for unity and harmony." (DS)