Kirkuk (AsiaNews) - Iraqi Christians and Muslims together prayed to Our Lady for an end to violence in the country. The religious leaders - Catholic, Sunni, Shia, Kurd – released doves as a sign of peace, in the hope that Iraq can overcome conflict and division. The event took place this morning, May 31, in Kirkuk, northern Iraq, where the Chaldean Archbishop Mgr. Louis Sako joined the Muslim religious and political authorities of the city to honour the mother of Jesus at the end of the month of Mary. In his intervention, the prelate spoke of the "value" of the encounter, at a time of "suffering." The prayer service was attended by the vice-governor, representing the leadership of local government, together with the families of two victims of terrorism: Ashur Yacob Issa, who was kidnapped and tortured to death earlier this month, and a Muslim police officer, massacred along with 27 others on May 16.
Today the month dedicated to Our Lady ends, a figure revered and honoured not only by Christians, but also capable of uniting Muslims and members of other religions. For the occasion, this morning the Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk invited Muslim religious and political authorities to join in a common prayer. Many Muslims made a pilgrimage to the statue of the Virgin Mary (pictured), especially women who pray to the Mary to intercede on their behalf.
For some time now the day has become an occasion for Christians and Muslims to pray together for peace and stability in the nation and region of Kirkuk, which was hit in recent weeks by a series of attacks and violence that has "shocked" local people. The prayer was held this morning in the cathedral, the choir sang Marian hymns, the congregation recited the psalms 62 and 121, while a deacon sang the Annunciation to Mary, from the Gospel of Luke, and the imam the Surat Myriam on the same theme. Finally the Archbishop, Msgr. Sako, greeted all participants. The most touching moment, however, was the recitation of the Prayer to the Virgin Mary, for peace and security, read in unison by Christian and Muslim women in four languages: Arabic, Kurdish, Turkmen and Chaldean.
At the end of the celebrations, a Turkmen Shiite imam, a Sunni Arab cleric, a Kurdish imam and the Archbishop released doves as a symbol of peace. The celebration was attended by the vice-governor on behalf of the institutions (the governor had prior commitments that took him outside the city) and the families of some victims of extremist terrorism in Kirkuk, Christian and Muslim. Among the other dignitaries who attended the prayer was the president of the municipal council, the chief of police, the army chief and leaders of political parties. The cathedral was full of people, Christians and Muslims of both sexes, with no divisions or barriers.
In his speech, Mgr. Sako stressed the value "of the encounter between Christians and Muslims in Kirkuk," in a period of "suffering" because of "blind and deadly violence” of recent weeks. Although "frightened," said the prelate, "we are united, Christians and Muslims, to honour the Blessed Virgin Mary 'Mariamana'. The person of the Virgin Mary is a point of encounter between Christians and Muslims - added the archbishop of Kirkuk - but there are other points in common. However, there are also differences and this is a normal aspect, which should be recognized, accepted and respected as part of the will of God. "
"The text of the Bible and the Koran - the prelate continues - on Surat Maryam points out this remarkable convergence. Mary invites us to pray, each in his or her own way, but going beyond words, the ultimate value is to maintain the intimate relationship with God and have God always before our eyes, as a reference point for our journey in search of the common good for all ". He said he hoped that Christians and Muslims become "pillars of the city and the entire country by faith, culture and morals" which advocate "peace, justice and law."
Archbishop Sako then stated that besides the prayer meeting today in church, he also hopes for moments of common prayer in the Shiite shrine and the mosque "to build a true community of brothers, eager to build peace, stability and security." He urged people not to accept "the devastating effects of violence," but to rely on the "language of the brave", that reason and dialogue that will lead "to understandings and accord” to "consolidate " harmony between the various components. " "No more violence – he said in a loud voice – enough of living like hostages to constant tension and fear" like "foreigners in our cities and our homes.""We Iraqi Christians - said the prelate - we are bound to our Muslim brothers, to our roots and the soil of Iraq. We are ready to help with any efforts for reconciliation, we do not want to live confined to ghettos isolated from others, neither in refugee camps set up for migrants in the Diaspora".