Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Patriarch Mar Raphael Louis Sako I paid an official visit to Turkey a few days ago, meeting the faithful and visiting a number of Chaldean places of worship in Ottoman lands.
The highlights of his trip included a meeting with Bartholomew I in Istanbul’s Phanar district, the recognised centre of the city’s Greek Christian community, where the Church of St. George is located.
The meeting took place last Wednesday, confirming the bond of closeness and solidarity between the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Chaldean Church, which has endured for quite some time violence and persecution ad the hands of Islamists and Jihadists in Iraq.
Bartholomew I welcomed with full honours Patriarch Sako and the Chaldean delegation, expressing his "closeness" to the Christians in Iraq, who are going through "difficult circumstances".
The ecumenical patriarch reiterated his hope for "peace in the region", paraphrasing what Pope Francis said during his apostolic visit to Turkey, namely that “one cannot imagine the Middle East without Christians."
Mar Sako responded by thanking his hosts for their welcome and prayer, in particular, for the decision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to allow immigrants to "celebrate Mass."
His Beatitude also stressed the importance "of Christian unity" because "unity is our salvation, our strength."
The two Christian leaders also addressed the issue of unifying the Christian holidays, as a testimony of unity and brotherhood.
The Chaldean cathedral of Diyarbakir
The auxiliary bishop of Baghdad Mgr Basil Yaldo, the Chaldean bishop of America Mgr Francis Kalabat and Mgr François Yakan, Patriarchal Vicar to Turkey, accompanied Patriarch Sako on his trip.
Before meeting Bartholomew I, the Chaldean delegation visited some of the most important places in the history of the local Chaldean Church, like the ancient Chaldean cathedral in Diyarbakir, see of the first Chaldean Patriarch Sulaqa, in 1553.
Mar Sako celebrated Mass in the cathedral last Saturday. During h homily, he stressed the importance of history and of the sacredness of the place, which "goes back to the sources of our Church, which has suffered a lot."
"Even though you have become a minority,” he told the faithful, “it does not matter because you are the salt and light, with your faith and your testimony."
During the subsequent meeting with journalists, various issues were discussed, including the actions of the Vatican and the European Union vis-à-vis the 1915 massacres (the Armenian and Assyrian genocides).
"This history is painful,” said the Chaldean patriarch. “We have to learn from it so as not repeat such tragedies anymore and move away from the mind-set of war and struggle. Instead, we must promote a culture of peace and mutual respect, because there is no future without peace. "
The pope, His Beatitude noted, spoke about these historical facts, to denounce what is happening today, i.e. the genocide and mass displacement taking in place in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya.
"The pope did not want to blame the current Turkish government,” Mar Sako said, “any more than the Church today blames the Jews for killing Christ 2,000 years ago. We need to understand the facts in the right perspective and not politicise them."
Visit to Mardin
As part of their trip, Patriarch Sako and Chaldean delegation visited the city of Mardin and celebrated Mass in the city’s Mar Hormizd Chaldean Church.
Later, they visited of the historic Syriac Orthodox Deyrü'z-Zafaran Monastery and Mor Gabriel Monastery in Tur Abdin.
His Beatitude insisted once again on the need for "Christian unity" to ensure a future for the minority in their own land.
Meeting with the governor of Istanbul
Tuesday morning, Patriarch Sako met with Istanbul Governor Vasip Şahin. Both agreed about the importance of a religious education and an open nation, capable of respecting the value of the human person, a creature of God.
"Wars are a disgrace, an absurdity," His Beatitude said. For this reason, "we must learn from history in order to promote coexistence, peace and stability in the world."
Today it is not reasonable to speak of jihad, or holy war, as was done in past centuries. Indeed, "There is no just war,” the two leaders said. Turkey and its secular government "can help in the process of separating state and religion."
"If we want to take a step forward, there is no other choice,” the patriarch explained. “Religion is a personal relationship with God, whilst society belongs to everyone."
Finally, Mar Sako celebrated Mass for Istanbul’s Chaldean community.
After the service, he spoke to the faithful, and listened to their thoughts and requests, reassuring them that he would try to satisfy them as soon as possible.