Millions of people took to the streets in Baghdad, Mosul, Najaf, Basra to celebrate. For the first time in three and a half years a Mass celebrated in the former Isis stronghold. The church cleaned up and arranged by young Muslims. The five challenges for the future of Iraq. And the Iraqi Churches’ duty to safeguard unity to protect the future of the community.
Baghdad (AsiaNews) - In these days of Christians celebrations "millions of Iraqis, including Muslims", took to the streets and squares to mark the festivities. Not only at Christmas, but also for the end of the year "many went out on the streets", not only young people but "whole families", united in an atmosphere of joy and carefreeness.
This is how Mar Louis Raphael Sako describes the recent festivities to AsiaNews. The Patriarch of the Chaldean Church celebrated "for the first time, after three and a half years" Mass in former Islamic State stronghold Mosul, long considered the capital of the so-called Caliphate. "A special moment - adds the Chaldean patriarch - to remind everyone that we Christians are still present in the city and in the country".
The street parties not only concerned Baghdad, but other prominent centers including the holy city (Shiite) Najaf, the same Mosul "where citizens put up a Christmas tree almost 10 meters high". And again, Kirkuk and Basra in southern Iraq. "Many people - the prelate continues - came to wish us well: ministers, deputies, Shiite and Sunni religious leaders. In the past, even before the fall of the regime [of Saddam Hussein], such participation had never been seen. I also remember with pleasure the letters of congratulations from the president and the Prime Minister ".
Mar Sako recalls the message of the special adviser to Iranian President for Religious Affairs Ali Yonsi, who has praised the testimony of Christians in a world that "is hungry for understanding, reconciliation, peace and moderation".
The High Representative of the Government of Teheran also stressed the importance of the visit of Pope Francis to Myanmar and the Pope’s support in favor of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority persecuted in the Asian country. "I was really impressed - underlines the Chaldean patriarch - by the beautiful gesture and the fine words of the Iranian official".
However, the greatest joy for the Chaldean primate was the celebration of the Christmas Eve Mass in the Church of St. Paul, in Mosul (in the photos). "We celebrated the function - he remembers - thanks to the voluntary work of a group of young Muslims in the city, who have arranged and cleaned up the church for us. They had come a few weeks ago from Mosul to the Patriarchate, to ask if they could prepare the place of worship for the celebrations of their own initiative; according to them, without the Mosul Christians knowing. And I accepted the request with enthusiasm ".
The rite, concelebrated with the Syrian-Catholic and Syro-Orthodox bishops of Mosul, was attended by senior military officers, government officials, local administrators, Muslim leaders (Shiites and Sunnis), along with many Christian and non-Christian families. "Among these - says Mar Sako - there were 90 families who have already returned to their homes in the west sector of Mosul; others have come from the plain of Nineveh to see their church again. My hope is to be able to soon appoint a parish priest to take care of the pastoral care and the needs of the Christian families already returned ".
The atmosphere of joy and celebration is also confirmed by the UN report of these days, according to which for the first time in a month [last December, ed] there were no victims in Mosul from attacks or violent incidents of extremist matrix. "The situation is improving - confirms the Chaldean patriarch - and we see a common reaction against violence and terrorism. Even the Sunni authorities have taken a common and strong position on behalf of Christians, inviting the citizens to wish the Christians well for the feast. It really seems an opportunity for unity and reconciliation".
For the future of Iraq, Mar Sako outlines five challenges that must be faced and overcome: the fight against fundamentalism and terrorism, a "priority" issue; the fight against corruption, which is "everywhere"; the ongoing controversy with Kurdistan and the referendum "that has created so many problems"; political elections; the reconstruction of the liberated cities. "These are the challenges - he warns - on which the Iraqis must focus for stability and security. I will talk about this next January 8, in the meeting scheduled with Premier Haider al-Abadi ".
The Iraqi Church, concludes the Chaldean primate, must instead "overcome divisions and reason with a view to unity, while safeguarding the traditions of each rite. A unity that does not have to be formal, but substantial and which needs good will and a sense of responsibility ". And in all this the West "must help us to ensure the Christian presence in the region, from Egypt to Syria, so that our persecuted communities can withstand and remain". (DS)