11/18/2023, 13.07
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Pope to Iraqi president: preserve 'mission' of the Church and Christian presence

This morning Francis received Abdul Latif Jamal Rashid at the Vatican. At the centre of the "cordial talks" were "good" bilateral relations and "themes of common interest", starting with freedom of action "particularly in the Nineveh plain". For months there has been a bitter clash between Baghdad and Card. Sako, who has temporarily transferred the patriarchal see to Erbil.

Rome (AsiaNews) - "Good" bilateral relations and "issues of common interest", in particular "the mission" of the Catholic Church and the future of the community, especially in the Nineveh plain. These are the issues at the center of this morning's meeting in the Vatican between Pope Francis and Iraqi president Abdul Latif Jamal Rashid, in a phase of profound crisis between the institutions in Baghdad and the Chaldean patriarchate.

At the center of the controversy is the head of state's decision to withdraw the presidential decree - endorsed by the court this week - which recognizes his role and authority. The pontiff had twice rejected Rashid's request for a meeting in the past; today the face to face, which was followed by the meeting with the Secretary of State, Card. Pietro Parolin and Msgr. Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States and International Organizations.

In a note released by the Press Office at the conclusion it speaks of "cordial talks" in which "good bilateral relations" are confirmed and "issues of common interest were addressed". “In particular, the need was reiterated - continues the declaration - for the Catholic Church in Iraq to be able to continue to carry out its appreciated mission and for all Iraqi Christians to be guaranteed to be a vibrant and active part of society and the territory, in particularly in the Nineveh Plain”.

Furthermore, the note concludes, "we focused on some international issues, with particular attention to the conflict in Israel and Palestine, and the urgent commitment to peace and stability".

In mid-July, the cardinal had temporarily transferred the patriarchal see from the capital to Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, in protest against the head of state's annulment of the decree - which concerns "only the Chaldean Church, and this is the basic issue," the patriarch explained - recognising its role and authority.

It was a surprising decision: Abdul Latif Rashid, in fact, has disavowed a centuries-old tradition by striking down the highest local Catholic authority, which is also responsible for managing the Church's assets and property.

This is where the issue revolves: the control of the properties that are targeted by the self-styled Christian leader 'Rayan the Chaldean' and the pro-Iranian militias that support him (a variegated galaxy that includes Shiites, Christians, Sunnis...), a threat to peace and coexistence for the nation. 

.In response to the attacks, the cardinal - who defined the withdrawal of the decree as a "moral assassination" - transferred the patriarchal seat to Erbil as an "extreme protest" and did not rule out a boycott of the next elections.

In this regard, in a recent interview with AsiaNews, card. Sako confirmed once again his intention to go all the way in what he defines as a battle for the very survival of the Christian community in Iraq. “I will return to Baghdad - said the cardinal - only when the decree is withdrawn. Our Church has given a lot to Iraq, from the Pope's visit to the humanitarian aid to Muslims at the time of ISIS, even greater than that reserved for Christians. Today, the thanks of the institutions is to punish the patriarch and an entire community."

Already at the end of October the Iraqi president, present in Rome for the World Food Forum, had asked to be received in audience, but the pope had declined for the second time, repeating the response given six months earlier to a similar request.

The choice of the pontiff was clearly linked to the ongoing controversy between the head of state and the Chaldean patriarch, even if the Holy See has never officially taken a position on the matter so much so that card himself. Sako had raised doubts about the "silence" in Rome. On the other hand, he had raised strong controversy and doubts about the (casual) meeting between Rayan the Chaldean and the Pope at the end of a general audience on Wednesday.

High Vatican sources, interviewed by AsiaNews in recent weeks, had explained that diplomacy was "at work" to find a "solution" to the controversy between the Chaldean primate and the president through dialogue and reconciliation, for the "good" of the Christian community Iraqi.

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