For the Chaldean primate, the pontiff "extended his gaze to a people who have suffered", reinforcing the value of "fraternity and closeness". Christians today can show "their faith with pride". The Muslims on the streets paid homage to Francis. With al-Sistani the seed of dialogue sowed, which the Church must "irrigate and cultivate".
Baghdad (AsiaNews) - Pope Francis' visit to Iraq "touched the hearts and minds of all Iraqis, with his gestures and well-prepared and studied speeches" which involved "politicians and ordinary citizens, Christians and Muslims".
These are the initial observations of the Chaldean patriarch, Card. Louis Raphael Sako, commenting on the pontiff's apostolic journey to the Arab country from March 5 to 8 last. In a period of health crisis due to Covid-19 and in a context that is still precarious in terms of security, adds the cardinal, "the Pope was able to extend his gaze to a people who have suffered, thus expressing his message of fraternity and closeness ".
From the meeting with the Shiite leader al-Sistani in Najaf to the politicians and Catholic clergy in Baghdad, from the visit to Mosul and Nineveh to the interreligious meeting in Ur of the Chaldeans, many significant moments characterized the Iraqi trip.
“Millions of people - says Card. Sako - even and above all simple people followed the Pope's Mass and events. My gardener, a Muslim, and his wife also followed the mass in the cathedral. Many Muslims wanted to see the function, trying an experience that they define as mystical”.
For the Chaldean primate, the pope’s visit "changed the Muslim mentality, especially with a view to greater understanding of the Christian faith. In these days they have seen that we are believers, we are not polytheists and the concept of trinity has a doctrinal explanation. That these are not contradictory or opposing elements. And then the prayers and hymns ... I saw some faithful in tears when our priest sang the Beatitudes and the hymn to charity contained in the letter to the Corinthians”.
The participation of an entire people, recalls Card. Sako, also emerges from simple facts, but full of meaning. “On the way from the nunciature to the cathedral, the doors of the houses were open and people greeted him [including Muslims] with a lighted candle and an olive branch. We could hear shouting 'Here is the Pope', and he greeted them in response."
We Christians, he adds, "according to the law we are full citizens, but in practice a sectarian mentality has long prevailed: today we are overcoming this factor and the hope is that we Christians can raise our heads and affirm our faith proudly. In this sense, the pope's visit is a source of strength and courage. If yesterday our presence was 50%, today we can say that we are 100% participants in the life of the nation, as also emerges from the media and television stations that have given ample space to the events of these days. Even in the foreign media, which were able to show the face of an open Iraq, which is not war and violence but love and hospitality”.
In a perspective of interreligious dialogue, "I think the meeting with al-Sistani can give a further boost. There is something - observes the Chaldean primate - that moves within Islam and the steps taken with the Sunni world in al-Azhar can be retraced with Shiite Islam in Najaf. A dialogue that is not based only on words, but on friendship and love. The pope has sown, now it is up to us as a local Church and as Christians to irrigate and cultivate this seed”.
Finally, the cardinal underlines the most important moment at the level of the Christian community: “Mass in the cathedral - he says - was the highest moment for us, an opportunity to present our faith with an understandable vocabulary. The hope for the future - he concludes - is that the barriers between Iraqi citizens can be eliminated more and more, regardless of the religious faith they profess, and to serve man, the citizen, fighting sectarianism and silencing weapons ".