by Joseph Mahmoud
Iraqi Christians and Muslims are judging Cardinal Leonardo Sandri's visit to the largest mosque in Kirkuk a "historic event". The Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches met with Muslim leaders of the city, and was then received by the governor Najm Alddin Karim who has used the occasion to confirm that December 25, Christmas Day, will be a "public holiday and day of vacation for everyone." Meanwhile, the government in Baghdad has ordered Egyptian TV channel Al Baghdadia be blocked, after the fatwa launched a few days ago by Shiite Ayatollah Ahmad Al Hassani Al Baghdadi against Christians. In Iraq the radical leader's words were ignored. No one wants to comment on them, but a government source confirmed that the Islamist leader "is not a pleasant person" and is "banned" from the country.
In the "historic visit" of December 16 to the largest mosque in Kirkuk, Card. Sandri and the Apostolic Nuncio in Iraq, Archbishop Giorgio Lingua led by Archbishop Louis Sako met the highest Muslim personalities of the city. The event was held at the end of afternoon prayers, in the presence of the highest offices of Shiite and Sunni Islam, along with many faithful. Yesterday, the Cardinal visited the city of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, the last leg of his journey before returning to Rome.
Ahmad Hamid Amin, imam of the mosque, welcomed the Cardinal "in friendship", judging the visit "a historic event" that marks the lives of Kirkuk governorate in northern Iraq at the center of a bitter dispute over gas and oil exploitation. It is a great honor to have among us, said the Sunni leader, "the envoy (Saydna) of the Pope". He went on to appreciate the "Christian presence" because "we are brothers and sisters, without difference and we must live in harmony". Finally, he asked Card. Sandri to "transmit to the Pope the most sincere and respectful wishes for Christmas." The Shia Imam Abbas Fadhil Abbas spoke of Christians as "flowers, and a garden without flowers is not a garden." He was echoed by the Sunni leader Ali schekh Alkhalidi, who made a comparison with "the visit of a Christian delegation to Muhammad in Medina", hoping at the same time the "multiplication" of these initiatives will "help the path of dialogue."
Card. Sandri repeatedly thanked "everyone" for this "warm reception", the Cardinal said that "peace is a project" towards which they must work together "Christians and Muslims," because "without peace there is no civilization or progress". "All of us, Christians and Muslims - said the Vatican prefect - we must work together to establish peace and respect for the rights of all. In this sense, it is essential the work of Iraqi Christians, who" must remain in the country "and live in full human dignity. "
The words of religious leaders were broadcast through loudspeakers on the minaret and translated into Arabic, so the whole neighborhood could hear. At the end of the visit, the cardinal presided at the Mass in the Cathedral according to the Chaldean rite, in the presence of the faithful and authorities. During the function Msgr. Sako spoke, stressing the Christian belonging to the "beloved land of Abraham, who hoped against hope." And it is this element, added the prelate, which "urges us to continue to remain in the land of our fathers." The visit of Cardinal Sandri, he said, "has made us feel we are a living part of the universal church."