Card Sako: the Iraqi people are reborn in protest and at Christmas
The Chaldean patriarchate cancelled all Christmas and New Year celebrations. The money saved will go to orphanages and hospitals, to treat the wounded. Christians are part of Iraq’s "reform movement” for a pluralist "new Iraq", but they also need "support" from the West. Christians must "read the signs of the times" and assert that "Christ is for everyone".
Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Christmas "is not just for Christians, but a people" waiting for a "positive solution" to the current crisis, a time to celebrate for people who want to see "a new pluralist, peaceful Iraq, worthy and respectful of all,” said Card Louis Raphael Sako.
The Chaldean Patriarch spoke to AsiaNews about the atmosphere of the beginning of Advent, a time still marked by protests and police crackdown.
For the cardinal, Iraqis “want a different life from that experienced before and after the fall of the regime” of Saddam Hussein in 2003 with its legacy of “refugees, deaths, corruption, poverty, misery".
"We Christians must live amid our people, not in a notional world. We must read the signs of the times” and renew our commitment “to brotherhood, collaboration, peace and life, without fear as Jesus urged as many times.”
Christmas requires greater commitment and involvement in the events that are stirring the nation, said Card Sako; otherwise, “we too will end up being sectarian.”
The coming of Christ "is for everyone" and “we must assert this truth” first of all by showing closeness "to Sunnis, Shias, those killed. We cannot be indifferent.”
Since 1st October, Iraq has seen largescale protests against government authorities over corruption, malfeasance, and bad governance, which have led to high unemployment and impoverished most people, especially the young.
The protests, repressed by the police, forced Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to quit, but the protesters of all stripes want the whole political class removed. Nonetheless, the police has continued to crack down after the Iranian consulate in Najaf was attacked twice in the past week.
"Our suffering and sadness are deep,” said Card Sako, because of “the 430 and more dead and 20,000 wounded. “No one feels like celebrating or victory”.
For this reason, the Chaldean patriarchate decided to cancel public displays of Christmas and New Year – trees, lights, parties, decorations – using the money saved for the country’s orphanages and for the hospitals where the latest wounded are recovering.
"With this gesture we want to bear witness our suffering and sadness,” said the prelate. “This choice has been welcomed by Iraqis; many have written to us, even among those in the streets, to thank us for the closeness of the Church and Christian support.”
"This is our way to say that we are close, that Christmas is for everyone: donating money to hospitals and orphanages to provide some support to everyone.”
Over the recent weeks, “I spoke to several (Muslim) leaders in Najaf and Nasiriya" and I told them that "we cannot be selfish or indifferent to the pain of others.”
In the streets, in Baghdad as in Basra, elsewhere, we can see “the Iraqi mosaic,” noted the Chaldean primate. “Christian too are strongly represented. There are Shias, Sunnis, Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen.” However, for Card Sako, "what is striking is the presence of girls and women, this is a first.”
“Back in October I had already said that we needed to highlight the role of women, who came out and got involved in protests, caring for the wounded. There were no violent incidents or abuse against them by other protesters.”
In Iraq, “a new feeling, a new consciousness is emerging. People are talking about THE people, not about anyone’s ethnicity or confession.”
Of course, "time will be needed” to solve the crisis. For this reason, "I ask Christians and the West to support reforms in Iraq and throughout the Middle East, in Lebanon, in Syria. This is important: Jesus too came to restore rights, dignity to human life. We must read what is happening through a Christian perspective.”