07/06/2021, 13.21
IRAQ - VATICAN
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Card. Sako: The Pope and al-Sistani fertile ground for reconciliation in a divided Iraq

Guerrilla groups attack power stations causing disastrous blackouts. Despite the premier's efforts, the political class looks to power and money, corruption remains high. The change of guard in Tehran and its effects on the country. Religious tourism and brotherhood to bring Christians and Muslims closer together. A Mass for the pontiff convalescing after an operation.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - The latest critical situation in order of time is "energy, with repeated and prolonged electricity blackouts that have affected Baghdad and other cities in the country for days. There are guerrilla groups attacking power stations, but it is not yet known where they come from or who orchestrates them". An Iraq of lights and shadows is what the Chaldean Patriarch, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, told AsiaNews. Louis Raphael Sako, where inter-religious dialogue continues, strengthened by Pope Francis' apostolic trip in March and by the visit of Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi to the Vatican on July 2. These steps forward are not enough to calm tensions as we await the repercussions of the victory of the ultra-conservative Ebrahim Raisi in Iran's presidential elections.

The lack of electricity is a serious problem," the cardinal explains, "because the temperature is very high, between 43 and 45 degrees with peaks of 50 in some cities, and everything is at a standstill. Without electricity, not even drinking water is available, not even refrigerators or a simple fan are working. The collapse in supplies is linked to militia attacks on power plants, which end up "fuelling anxiety, insecurity and instability for the future. The general elections scheduled for October remain a question mark. Until there is a vision, a common horizon, and the tensions between Washington and Tehran are smoothed out, the future of Iraq will also be at risk'.

The Pope's visit has partly alleviated the suffering of a population grappling with numerous problems, which also emerged last week during the meeting with the Iraqi Prime Minister in the Vatican. "These are occasions - comments Card. Sako - for peace and reconciliation. The head of the government shows good will, he wants a strong state, where law and law are in force, but more is needed. The clashes between militias create great tension, the political parties each act for their own interest and do not show a strategy that is of service to the country. The only thing they have in mind is power and money and, in this situation, corruption remains high".

The Chaldean Primate believes it is necessary to insist on the themes of dialogue and confrontation between the different factions that make up the nation and "not all of them want the good of Iraq", while the citizens "have lost confidence in a ruling class that is less and less credible". The face-to-face meeting between the Pope and the Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani proved to be "important, but it takes time. The meetings held in recent months with Shiite and Sunni leaders, with religious leaders who have come to visit the patriarchate to continue the process, are useful for this". A first element "can be religious tourism, with pilgrimages to Ur of the Chaldees, the homeland of Abraham our common father, and a centre of meditation, dialogue and life" that unites Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Even for Christians, since the US invasion in 2003 until today, "there is no concrete initiative to help them maintain their presence. I have asked the authorities what plans there are for places of worship, schools and homes in Mosul and the Nineveh Plain", destroyed by war and sectarian violence, without a reply. Only the Church has begun restoration and reconstruction," he explains, "with the help of the bishops' conferences, international charity agencies and our dioceses in the diaspora. The return of Christians requires ideas, perspectives and, above all, dignity.

In order for this to happen, international tensions must be resolved and the stranglehold of neighbouring Iran and the pro-Shia militias operating in the area, which are increasingly active in the north, in the Nineveh plain that was once a Christian stronghold, must be eased. The violence", the Chaldean primate confirms, "hurts both countries. I hope for a positive change, especially in greater respect for both Iraqi and Iranian sovereignty. I hope that cooperation will be strengthened, starting with trade and religious tourism, but there are many areas to improve.

Certainly there is the greater visibility guaranteed by the Pope's visit, because even today "there are television programmes that talk about it and posters can be seen in the streets with the Pontiff and al-Sistani, or phrases of the Pope praising brotherhood". This helps Christians to be more courageous," confirmed the Chaldean primate, "and to enjoy greater respect. At the level of the population, his coming has changed the mentality, they are no longer seen as infidels by most, but as brothers. The Pope has prepared the ground, now we must sow and take further steps to strengthen brotherhood".

Card. Sako addressed his last thought to the Argentinean Pontiff, who is convalescing after surgery: "In the masses," he concluded, "we prayed for his health, because the world needs his prophetic spirit, his openness and simplicity. His voice always reaches wherever there is a need, from Lebanon to Palestine, from Syria to Myanmar".

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