09/06/2013, 00.00
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For Patriarch Sako, the tragedy of war unites Iraq and Syria, calls for fasting and prayers for peace

Speaking to AsiaNews, Mar Sako urges bishops, priests and the faithful to heed Pope Francis's appeal. The Chaldean Patriarch has already seen the sufferings of a people victim of a terrible conflict. He told Caritas to be ready to receive and help refugees. He is grateful to Syria, "which welcomed Iraqis in recent years," pledging reciprocity when the "need" will arise.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - War "is a terrible experience" that "we have already had" and therefore "we feel a lot closer" to Syria," said Mar Raphael Louis Sako. Speaking to AsiaNews, the Chaldean patriarch called on the bishops, priests and faithful of Iraq "to fast for peace in Syria and the Middle East."

Stressing "the suffering" of the Syrian people, His Beatitude said, "We saw a similar thing ten years ago." From hindsight, after the United States-led war in 2003 ended in Saddam Hussein's fall, "we have had neither democracy nor freedom." Instead, "confusion and security are getting worse. . . . Every day, more people die in Iraq."

On Sunday during the Angelus, Pope Francis called for a day of prayer and fasting on 7 September for "peace in Syria, the Middle East and the world," an appeal also addressed to "believers of all faiths; even those who do not believe," a call accepted by Christian and non-Christian leaders, close to the Syrian people and ready to support an end to the conflict.

In the meantime, the situation in Syria is getting worse and in neighbouring Iraq, people fear serious consequences not only in political terms, but also in human lives. In view of its scale, the tragedy of "those poor people living in panic" is becoming increasingly clear, the patriarch said.

"For us it is like reliving the past," Mar Sako said. "It is as if Iraq itself were also under attack. We have a deep sense of gratitude towards Syria, which took in and took care of many Iraqis over the past ten years. As a thank you, we are ready to welcome those who will need our help."

Iraqi Christians have accepted with enthusiasm the papal initiative and are set to pray and fast tomorrow.

"The Pope's appeal is very important," His Beatitude explained. "It was widely covered in Iraqi media. It has mobilised people of good, those seek peace, because peace is the only way to solve problems, not war or military intervention, which under the pretext of defending the innocent, end up killing other innocent civilians."

For the Chaldean Patriarch, the Muslim world, as much as the West, has a "moral responsibility". It is called to change its "mind-set of violence and revenge, opening up to dialogue and diversity".

For the prelate, a state based on the Sharia like in the 7th century "cannot work today". Instead, "we must be realistic. Even the Muslim world must change, and not be guided by religion alone."

Lastly, the patriarch has some words for the refugees, whose sad fate could still turn into a tragedy.

"The flight of thousands of families, the abandoned homes and schools and the coming winter are likely to make a bad situation worse, "Mar Sako said.

"The health situation is also very precarious. I asked Caritas to be ready to help refugees. We, as Iraqi and as Christians, are sensitive to this. For a long time, we were the ones fleeing, and for this reason, we feel close to the Iraqi people." (DS)

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