Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "The whole Christian world has lost one of its outstanding spiritual leaders, [who was] courageous and wise in leading people, [. . .] a man of dialogue and peace with regard to the followers of all religious traditions" and "an engaged witness of the successive violent conflicts that [. . .] brought untold death and suffering to the Middle East, especially to Iraq and most recently Syria," said Pope Francis as he remembered Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, head of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch and All the East, who died in hospital in Germany, at the age of 80.
In a telegram, the Holy Father noted that the patriarch had attended the Second Vatican Council as an "observer" and highlighted his great contribution in strengthening the communion between the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church.
The death of the Syriac Orthodox patriarch elicited great emotions in the Middle East, particularly in Damascus, the See of his Church, but also in India, which he often visited.
In a statement, Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), remembered the patriarch, noting the "close relationship" he had in particular with Kerala, which he had visited the last time in 2008. Here, the local Syriac Orthodox Church declared 40 days of mourning.
"Every time he visited India, thousands of people gathered to receive his blessing," Sajan K George told AsiaNews.
"The Syrian Orthodox Church contributed significantly through financial and material assistance to the people suffering in Syria."
A tireless fighter against human rights violations, "He was simple, compassionate and worked tirelessly for ecumenical unity."
Born in Mosul, Iraq, Ignatius Zakka I Iwas became the primate of the Syriac Orthodox Church in 1980. Before that, he was the metropolitan bishop of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra.
Once he became patriarch, he lived and worked in Damascus, the See of the Syrian Orthodox Church.
On Friday, the patriarch's body will travel from Germany to Lebanon and then Syria, where his funeral will take place.