Chaldean Patriarch says that the papal visit should be used to revitalise the economy, dialogue and unity

The Apostolic Journey constitutes a legacy of exchanges and experiences that can bring the country back “to the international arena”. Card Sako suggests ways to revive tourism, dialogue, unity and interfaith dialogue. Tourism can play a role in the economic recovery while highlighting the country’s Christian, Muslim, Yazidi, Sabaean and Jewish heritage.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Chaldean Patriarch Louis Cardinal Raphael Sako addressed a letter to the people of Iraq (Christians and Muslims) and the peoples of the Middle East, encouraging to keep alive the legacy of Pope Francis' “historic and fundamental” apostolic journey to Iraq.

In it, the prelate notes that the visit can help revitalise tourism, boost dialogue, consolidate national unity and promote interfaith dialogue among the country’s various groups.

The legacy of exchanges and experiences, he told AsiaNews , can “bring the country back to its natural state and to the international arena”. To this end, there will be a book with photos, documents and testimonies, Card Sako said.

From the meeting with Shia leader al-Sistani in Najaf and politicians and Catholic clergy in Baghdad to the visit to Mosul and Nineveh and the interfaith meeting in Ur of the Chaldeans, the Pontiff's Iraqi visit had many significant moments.

For Card Sako, the journey can also provide an opportunity to “turn the page on a painful past” and build a “culture of peace, brotherhood, solidarity and respect” that rejects once and for all “sectarian hatred, disputes and conflicts”.

The Chaldean primate’s letter offers reflections valid for all Iraqis, regardless of ethnicity or religion, discussed with the President of the Republic, ministers and religious authorities. He urges the peoples and governments of the Middle East to go beyond sectarianism and partisanship which, over the years, have stirred violence and caused destruction and divisions.

As part of this, the Patriarch wants to create an “ecclesiastical committee” to “study the implications of the visit, the places and people encountered, the messages he (the Pope) addressed” and, more importantly, “what can be done to take action. Such a committee can be open to other Churches and other official and religious entities.”

A new phase in Iraq's life calls for “a change in people's mindsets.” The pontiff stressed this idea in Najaf and Ur that we are brothers and we must treat ourselves as brothers, a view shared by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani “We are part of you and you are part of us,” he said.

“In order to fight the viruses of terrorism and extremism,” writes the cardinal. “We propose to organise joint training courses and workshops, promote religious knowledge, and correct what causes misinformation,” and hinders “respect for diversity”.

One of the first projects is to publish a study in Arabic and English on religions drafted by the Dialogue Committee (which includes Christians, Sunni and Shia Muslims, one Yazidi and some Sabean-Mandaeans) to “consolidate the principle of equality before the law”.

The initiative also aims to promote “educational curricula in schools” per age group, to raise awareness about brotherhood and “consolidate national unity”.

For the Chaldean primate, the first steps to revive the economy is to “revitalise tourism” because “Iraq is a great museum of Sumerian, Babylonian, Chaldean, Assyrian, Christian and Muslim civilisations”.

With this in mind, work must be done to “restore and maintain archaeological sites and link them to tourist facilities”, expanding the field to include Christian, Islamic, Mandean, Yazidi and Jewish elements.

The Church of Kochi is one of the Christian sites noted by the prelate. Located on the outskirts of Baghdad, it dates back to the 1st century AD. Others are the 5th century al-Aqis Church in Karbala, and the 7th century Green Church in Tikrit.

“These monuments should be considered an integral part of Iraq's own heritage,” and are “much more valuable than oil wells, which will run dry one day.”

Finally, the cardinal wants to encourage “expatriate Iraqis to invest in their country of origin” and establish a national day celebrating the pope's visit to Iraq.

The Iraqi government has announced that 6 March will be a Day of Tolerance, which will be associated with initiatives and activities that “contribute to spreading a culture of tolerance and love”.