by Louis Sako, Archbishop of Kirkuk
We publish an address by Mgr Louis Sako, archbishop of Kirkuk (northern Iraq), which he delivered at a prayer meeting organised by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). The event took place last Friday in Paris (France) in a church overflowing with faithful who had come to hear important representatives of the universal Church from regions where Christians are persecuted for their religious beliefs.
Among the speakers, there were Card Joseph Zen, who spoke about the Church in China; Paul Bhatti, brother of the late Shahbaz Bhatti who was killed by Muslim fundamentalists on 2 March 2011 and now special national harmony adviser to the prime minister of his country; the Coptic bishop of Assiut in Egypt, Mgr. Kirrolos William Simaan; and of course Mgr Sako of Iraq.
During the ACN meeting, the names of last year's Christian martyrs as well as those of the first part of this year were read out, with candles lighted in front of their pictures. The vigil was preceded by a Mass celebrated by the apostolic nuncio to France and co-celebrated by the cardinals and bishops.
Here is the address by Mgr Louis Sako sent to AsiaNews, which we gladly publish:
Our Church is apostolic because it is a martyr Church. Faith is not an ideological issue or a utopia but rather a personal tie, sometimes existential, with the person of Christ, whom we love and to whom we give our entire life. For Him, we must always go farther, including sacrifice. Such is the absolute expression of loyalty to this love. In Iraq today more than ever before, we are conscious that believing is love and love is giving.
In the Gospel, before and after the Resurrection, Jesus reassured his disciples many times when he told them, "Do not be afraid!" When Jesus says the same today, he does so on the basis of the Father's love for us and his love for Him. For us, it is possible to respond to such love, which is connected to our faith. Love and faith are one and the same. They go together. Such boundless love gives life its meaning and its eternal dimension for those who love each other know that their love transcends them. Such is a true mystery. Love is the logical consequence of life and the resurrection.
For us, Christians of Iraq, as a minority that is constantly facing difficulties and sacrifices, we know what it means to be persecuted, kidnapped and killed. We know how it feels to be powerless. We are aware of the dangers, but our faith gives us the courage to continue to hope and love. Our Church is apostolic not only because it was founded by the apostles, but also because it is a martyr Church as was the Church of the apostles. Like the Iraqi martyrs whom we cannot forget, we find the strength to persevere, hoping for a change in men's heart, in which a divine seed grows. I cannot forget Fadi, a choirboy killed in our church Our Lady of Kirkuk. Nor can I forget Deacon Wayil, or the sisters Marguerite and Fadila, who came to mass every evening. I certainly cannot forget Mgr Faraj Rahho and Fr Raghid Ganni. I am convinced that the sacrifice of 973 Christians and of thousands more Muslims in Iraq will not be in vain. One day, it will help us realise that love means life.
Today, Christians around the world need to "renew" their vow to follow Christ in light of the Christians martyred and persecuted in Iraq and elsewhere. The prayers, solidarity and support of our Christian sisters and brothers in the West and elsewhere encourage us to remain in our homeland and stand in our churches. This long-distance union with every Christian helps us live here, side by side and in peace with our Muslims neighbours, so that we continue our presence and witness of love and forgiveness.