Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "I have talked about our situation, as Iraqis and as Christians, and I have asked him to write a letter to my community, to confirm them in the faith and hope, as did Saint Paul when he addressed the faithful in the early days of the Church. He answered right away saying that he would do it with pleasure," said Chaldean Patriarch Raphael I Mar Louis Sako after he met Pope Francis this morning in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.
At noon, the pope had an audience with the patriarch of Baghdad, who heads the Bishops' Conference of Iraq. His Beatitude said that he had a "great meeting" with "a man of God who welcomes you with a smile" as well as "the concern of a shepherd."
Their tête-à-tête centred on the plight of the Christian community in Iraq and elsewhere, victimised by the violence and bloodshed of the Islamic State and its armed groups whose control now extends over large swathes of land, especially in northern Iraq.
Hundreds of thousands of the faithful have fled their homes; many families live in desperate conditions, housed in shelters or temporary housing.
Mar Sako stressed that, in addition to the letter, a "visit" by the Pope, "if possible", would be hugely important.
"We, our community, are suffering," he went on to say, "and we need your support," he told the Holy father. "We need the closeness of the whole Church."
Pope Francis would like to visit Iraq, the patriarch noted, "but he knows that such a trip would depend on what is happening on the ground. Nevertheless, he is a man of good will who wants to be close to those who suffer."
By virtue of his years at the helm of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, the pope developed great consideration for "the pastoral ministry."
"He is a pastor who feels people's hardships. He is a man of mercy who does not condemn but helps," Mar Sako said.
What is more, the pope agrees that Christians are a "message" of peace and coexistence "in the Middle East" and are "a positive sign for everyone."
A possible papal visit would be "a miracle, a total change that would eliminate the distance," the sense of being "isolated and forgotten."
In the meantime, we continue our work of "peace, hope and reconciliation" in Iraq and throughout the region, "comforted in this sense by Francis' words of reconciliation, love and forgiveness".
The pope "told me to greet everyone," Mar Sako said in concluding, "and that he was praying for Iraq and its people." (DS)