“It was totally unexpected, a real surprise. I want to thank Pope Francis. This appointment conveys support to the Iraqi Church as a whole, to its suffering population. I will do my utmost for Iraq and for the Iraqi people, with no distinction whatsoever.”
His Beatitude Louis Raphaël I Sako – Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon, is still moved when SIR contacted him by phone in the Iraqi capital. He didn’t have time to “process” the news of his cardinalship, announced by Pope Francis at the end of the Regina Coeli address in St. Peter’s Square, along with 13 new cardinals who will be created by Francis during the Consistory of June 29. These include: Luis Ladaria Ferrer, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Angelo De Donatis, vicar of Rome; Giovanni Angelo Becciu, substitute of the Secretariat of State; Konrad Kraiewski, Papal Almsgiver; Joseph Coutts, archbishop of Karachi; Antonio dos Santos Marto, bishop of Leiria-Fatima; Pedro Ricardo Barreto Jimeno, archbishop of Huancayo; Désiré Tsarahazana, archbishop of Toamasina; Giuseppe Petrocchi, archbishop of L’Aquila, and Thomas Aquino Manyo Maeda, archbishop of Osaka.
A Church of martyrs. After Emmanuel III Delly, created Cardinal in the Consistory of 24 November 2007 by Benedict XVI, the Iraqi Church thus returns to have a new Cardinal See, “bordering” with the Syrian one of apostolic nuncio Mario Zenari, as underlined by the new cardinal:
“With this decision Pope Francis expresses his closeness to a land stained with innocent blood, where Christians have been the victims of heinous violence, just as it has been with the appointment of the nuncio in Syria, card. Mario Zenari.”
The thoughts of Mar Sako go to “all those who were killed as a result of religious hatred”, as Msgr. Paul Faraj Rahho, Archbishop of Mosul, Father Ragheed Ganni and their companions, whose martyrdom “instils spiritual values that fill our life with hope, human dignity, tolerance and peace.” Those values “will help our Country get back on its feet and break free from all forms of terrorism, murder, destruction. They will foster the onset of security, stability, economic and social prosperity.” Mar Sako expressed these same feelings in his written message for the commemoration of Chaldean martyrs past April 6.
“We Christians – added the new cardinal – have no swords. Our weapons are the weapons of peace, of prayer, of harmonious coexistence. Our vocation is to forgive seventy times seven, that is to say, always. We are called to be artisans of peace, builders of hope and dialogue. Our Muslim brothers appreciate this culture of peace.”
The phone call of Moqtada al Sadr. “Pope Francis always says that he will go wherever he is needed. And although he cannot visit us for the time being, by appointing a cardinal for Iraq, as was the case for Syria, the Holy Father is close to us all, conveying his support to the suffering people of Iraq, the Christian and non-Christian population alike.” The underlying message of this appointment to cardinalship is clear, the Cardinal pointed out:
“No more bloodshed, no more wars. It ‘s time for reconciliation.”
A helping hand to the Iraqi political realm, after the vote of past May 12. “Our hope is that the recent elections may bring us a government capable of reconciling the various souls of our Country, so as to walk in unison towards peace, stability, and social and economic progress.” It is no coincidence that the winner of the election, Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr, was the among the first to congratulate Mar Sako.
“I was touched by Al Sadr’s words: ‘May the peace of the Lord be upon you’. He reaffirmed his willingness to help and cooperate with Christians”, said the Chaldean Patriarch.
Also “Government officers, Muslim religious leaders – Shiites and Sunnis – transmitted their expressions of esteem, along with ordinary people…. everyone –His Beatitude said – conveyed their joy, saying that this appointment is a great gift to our Country, harbinger of hope in a better future. But it’s also a sign of spiritual closeness to our faith, not only the Christian faith, as a Muslim told me.”
The cassock and the cross. On the basis of this appointment, the Iraqi Church will try to strengthen its presence and relaunch pastoral action, starting with the return of the Christian communities to the villages of the Nineveh Plains, destroyed by the Islamic State and undergoing reconstruction works. Patriarch Sako shows us the way:
“Last Friday I ordained four new Chaldean priests and while I gave them the cassock and a wooden cross I exhorted them to live as servants of the Gospel. I address the same call to priests and to all the faithful: we don’t seek power. We don’t seek money or fame. We follow the Gospel serving with joy the flock that Jesus entrusts to our care. This task is made more difficult by the situation in which we live.
Let us relinquish pride and ambition and may we be servants. May the Bible be the light that illuminates our path. The cassock is an extremely meaningful evangelical symbol. It call us
To live as servants not as leaders.
Wearing the cassock also expresses the simplicity of being close to the people, being their friends, being on their side. It is in this spirit that I receive the appointment made by the Holy Father.”