Roma (AsiaNews) - As Saint San Francis travelled to the East where he met Sultan Malik al-Kamil, so we hope Pope Francis "may come to Iraq to confirm us our faith and give our small community in the land of Abraham courage and hope," said His Beatitude Mar Louis Raphael I Sako during an audience with the pontiff this morning in the Vatican. "Yes," answered the pope, "with joy." The patriarch himself told AsiaNews about his meeting with the Holy Father before leaving this afternoon for Baghdad. The head of the Chaldean Church was in Rome for the pope's inaugural Mass in St Peter's Square last Tuesday.
The prelate said that he was "struck by the pope's simplicity and spontaneity". He was very moved when the two talked about the tragic fate of Iraqi Christians.
"I stood before a father and a first-class pastor," the patriarch said. "When I told him that our land had to endure 950 martyrs and 57 churches attacked, he said: 'I feel pain for you.'"
Francis also asked him about his diocese, about vocations in his country, tormented by ten years of violence and conflict between Shias and Sunnis.
"He asked me to pray for him," the prelate explained. "And I invited him to visit us in Iraq. The pontiff said he looks forward to visiting our country, which is also where Abraham began his journey. His visit would inspire us with courage and hope."
His Beatitude Mar Luis Raphael I took advantage of the meeting to ask the pope to speak to Muslims, meeting them the way Saint Francis did, stressing the importance of interfaith dialogue because "When the head of the Church speaks to the Muslim world, we Christians are shown appreciation and respect."
"We ended by praying together," the patriarch said, "reciting Our Father and Hail Mary for Iraq." After that, "The pope gave his blessing to all Iraqis present, priests, men and women religious as well as lay people." (D.S.)