Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Eastern Churches "have a future in Iraq, as well as Iran," and when conflict ends, it "will be even better" because it will be possible to start a journey of "dialogue and reconciliation" that will embrace Christians and Muslims, said Chaldean Patriarch Raphael I Mar Louis Sako, after a two-week visit to Iran’s Chaldean Christian communities.
"Wars always come to an end,” he told AsiaNews, “and we need to work for the future and reconciliation with patience and prayer." This goes for his native Iraq where the central government and the Islamic State group continue to battle it out around Ramadi and parts of Anbar province.
Mar Sako said that in Iraq the situation "remains tense" and "people are worried about the future." In fact, two attacks were carried out today against luxury hotels in the capital killing and wounding scores of people.
Islamic State fighters "are on the move,” he noted, “and have occupied a very important part of the country." They control "more than 50 per cent of Syrian territory and 30 per cent of Iraq," which have become part of the Caliphate. "This scares people who live with anxiety and fear."
People displaced by war, whose number now exceeds three million, “lack just about everything,” the Chaldean Patriarch said.
Although they can count on the help of international agencies and the Church, "it is difficult to move forward and there is bitterness and despair" among the people.
In Iraq, "The government does what it can,” he said. “However, soldiers lack training, there are not enough weapons, and the broader regional situation complicates the situation in our country.”
“We must face this crisis not only from a military perspective, but ideological as well and fight their [the jihadists’] ideology. They are very dangerous.”
If Iraq is a source of concern, the patriarch of Baghdad spoke with confidence and hope about his recent pastoral visit on 12-24 May to Iran’s Chaldean communities, almost 400,000 strong, especially Tehran and Urmia.
Meeting them, he said, "I felt within me the strength of the early Church," something "that can grow if it is patient and is able to remain united."
My visit, he noted, "helped to strengthen [their] spirituality. It gave them hope and encouraged them to stay." The more so that, unlike Iraqi Christians, "they have peace and hope, and do not live in fear. This is a blessing for them."
During his visit to Iran (pictured, from the Chaldean Patriarchate website), Mar Sako met the highest civil and religious authorities of the Islamic Republic, stressing the role of Tehran in a regional context as a force of "peace and stability".
“We must learn from these wars,” the patriarch told Iran's leaders, and "work for reconciliation between Sunnis and Shias. You are all Muslims and there is no excuse for fractures or divisions."
"I insisted,” he added, “to promote the idea of an Islam of peace and tolerance, to show that in fact there is no oppression in Islam . . . I then proposed to undertake joint initiatives in the Year of Mercy. They responded positively, but words must be followed by deeds."
One of the ideas that did emerge from the various meetings was setting up a joint committee for "social and religious dialogue” between Muslim and Christian Iranians to create links and relationship "beyond borders". The faithful said they were "ready" to act on the proposal and really want "sincere dialogue".
"In Iran, there is a symbolic but active Christian presence, which should be encouraged,” His Beatitude said. “I tried to give them a boost, stressing that the patriarch is close to them and also thinks about them."
Finally, the patriarch of Baghdad called on the universal Catholic Church to "think more about these countries, materially poor but rich in quality" when talking about the Christian presence.
"The Congregation of Eastern Churches must to be closer to these 'small remnants',” he said, “working for unity and solidarity, not only mere administration".
In his view, the Churches of Iran and Iraq can have a future, and Christians can continue to be, as they were in the past, "a bridge between religions, faiths and cultures" in the Middle East. (DS)