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    » 01/05/2016, 00.00

    IRAQ

    Chaldean patriarch: at Christmas, actual acts of peace between Christians and Muslims in Baghdad



    Mar Sako talks to AsiaNews about steps y Christians took to create contacts among the faithful during the holiday. As worshippers filled churches, they experienced Christmas through “prayer and inner calm”. Solidarity to poor Christian and Muslim families is expressed through financial assistance. The patriarch walks through the capital’s streets to mark the end of the year.

    Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Chaldean Patriarch Raphael Mar Louis Sako celebrated Christmas as a moment of "peace and mercy," a feast filled with "prayer and inner calm" among the faithful, who crowded the churches of Baghdad in services full of "so much faith and hope."

    Speaking to AsiaNews, the prelate described how Christians in the Iraqi capital experienced – in many cases shared with Muslims – the festive season.

    Jesus’ birth and the start of the Jubilee Year provided an opportunity to meet, exchange and show solidarity because "through acts of mercy contacts are created, ties established, solidarity shown, and a desire to meet others nurtured.” This builds “bridges between communities despite many difficulties and walls.”

    In Baghdad, the Chaldean Church is divided into 30 parishes with an additional 35 churches affiliated to the community led by Mar Sako, who celebrated Christmas Mass "in seven different churches”.

    Places of worship were packed "with people with so much faith and so much hope," he said. Indeed, hopefully, "2016 will be a year of peace, despite the tensions”.

    For the prelate, "People have peace in their heart, praying fervently to see it spread quickly cross the country."

    Christians are not alone in feeling this way. “Many Muslim families who participated in the Mass of midnight feel the same way,” he added.

    “Many ordinary people brought flowers and exchanged greetings;” simple, ordinary people, not government or clerical authorities, noted the Chaldean Patriarch, who refused cards and gifts from "religious and political leaders" because of the many unsolved problems that continue to afflict Christians and Iraq.

    In his pastoral letter to the faithful, which was issued on the eve of the holiday, Mar Sako slammed once more the many ills that affect society, especially some that touch Christians. These include the Islamic State group that forced people to flee Mosul and the Nineveh Plains in the summer of 2014, criminal and extremist groups who racketeer and steal from families, the Islamisation of children and the rejection from some Muslims.

    "We expect real and tangible change in Iraq, a new culture, not only formal speeches and statements,” the patriarch said.

    At a time of celebration, the Chaldean Church and the Christian community promoted many initiatives in support of the poor, the marginalised and those in need, without distinction of faith or ethnicity.

    "In order to breathe life into the Christmas message, we helped 2,000 Christian, Muslim and Yazidi families in Baghdad, giving them some money to meet their daily needs. This is one way to show with facts that we are brothers."

    In Kirkuk, the Chaldean Church is helping 385 students from displaced families, "mostly Christians, but some Muslims and Yazidis too."

    The Patriarchate provides some funding for "housing, rents houses, offers some food and small items, to help them continue their education."

    "The celebration on 24 December in a refugee camp in Baghdad, which houses 130 families in Mosul and 40 university students” is another act of mercy, His Beatitude said.

    “I offered dinner and some money as well as opened the Holy Door in a camp tent. I gave sweets to children that Card Fernando Filoni* had sent to me as a token of the Holy See’s solidarity."

    "Through our actual acts of mercy contacts are created, ties established, solidarity shown, and a desire to meet others nurtured,” said the head of the Church in Iraq.

    In some cases, this has become "a tangible sign of hope, a response to the logic of war and revenge, and to the lack of compassion, forgiveness and reconciliation – evils that have afflicted Iraq for far too long, overwhelming it with violence and terror. However desirable, reconciliation is still very far away."

    Lastly, the Chaldean Patriarch mentioned an episode related to Christmas events that filled him with joy and satisfaction.

    "On the evening of 31 December, we walked along some Baghdad streets (pictured), without escort or security detail. We wanted to send a message, to show that we Christians are here, with everyone, for everyone. On this occasion, four million people, mostly Muslims, came out into the streets to celebrate the New Year.

    “I met women, children, soldiers, people who came from Basra and Najaf to celebrate the New Year of the 'birth of Jesus',” he explained.

    “In an interview on a popular TV show, I spoke out against a closed and fundamentalist Islam, calling for its renewal and greater openness,” Mar Sako said. “Many thanked me, especially Muslims." (DS)

    * Card Fernando Filoni is the prefect of Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples (Propaganda Fide)

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    See also

    27/12/2014 IRAQ
    For Chaldean Patriarch, Christmas is the source of hope for Iraqi Christians "displaced" like Jesus
    In his homily, Mar Sako noted the Christian community's "difficult and painful circumstances," but also pointed out that the festivity is cause for renewed hope. He looks forward to a future of peace, harmony and coexistence, but to reach that goal, the country needs a strong political system and the foreign policy of the United States and the West must change.

    20/12/2010 IRAQ
    A Christmas of mourning for Iraq’s Christians
    After the series of anti-Christian attacks, Iraq will mark Christmas again under tight security. No functions will be held on Christmas Eve, nor decorations or ceremonies. A community enduring suffering and losses is preparing to experience the message of hope brought by Jesus to earth because, for Iraqi Christians, Christmas is always a time of joy as well as martyrdom. Mgr Louis Sako, Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk, bears witness.

    04/07/2016 17:09:00 IRAQ
    For Patriarch Sako, Baghdad massacre rooted in IS’s desire to rule the world

    This morning, the Chaldean Patriarch visited Baghdad’s Karrada district, scene of the latest Jihadi attack.  So far the death toll stands at 165 with at least 225 wounded. Other sources claim more than 200 deaths. Government unity is needed to counter extremist violence. The Muslim world must realise that IS is a cancer eating away at Islam itself. Pope Francis prays for the victims and their families.



    11/07/2013 IRAQ - ISLAM
    Patriarch Sako: Greetings of peace to our Muslim brothers and sisters for Ramadan
    His Beatitude Mar Raphael Louis Sako I sends a message to the Islamic community at the start of the holy month of fasting and prayer. He hopes it will be a time for doing good and for reconciliation in a country ravaged by ten years of war and violence. Patriarch calls for dialogue in order to create "one community" in the "diversity" of its various components.

    13/06/2013 IRAQ
    Chaldean Synod: revitalising the Christian presence in Iraq and freedom for Syrian bishops
    This is the thrust of the paper that marked the end of the meeting held in Baghdad on 5-10 June. The Fathers call for the creation of a "competent" Christian political class, urging the faithful to be "a bridge between cultures." The Synod also stressed the importance of the ecumenical movement and calls for an "honest dialogue" with the Assyrian Church of the East. It issues special thanks to Pope Francis.



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