lunedì, aprile 15, 2013


Mar Louis Raphael I Sako: houses for families in need, "cleaning" in the church, national reconciliation and the invitation to the Pope to visit Ur

By Baghdadhope*

Pope Francis’ election is bringing with it a breath of fresh air in the church that now, as never before, seems to want to focus its attention on those in need.
It also seems that this breath started from Rome is blowing toward distant places among of which there is Iraq.
A month and thirteen days before the election of Pope Francis it was the turn of the new patriarch of the Chaldean church. Since his arrival in Baghdad in mid-February the newly elected Mar Louis Raphael I Sako seems to have anticipated the new course of renewal of the church sanctioned by the Pope.
For years, the Chaldean Church in Iraq - the one that has the largest number of faithful in the country- had not been so active.
The different political situations, the old age and the poor health of the two patriarchs who preceded Mar Sako had made it fall into a sort of anarchy in which the pursuit of personal profit and the selfish particularism had thrived, the clergy had lost over the years its role as a moral model and the priests, without a leader - at best distant physically or spiritually - were unmotivated and like the faithful dreamed only to flee abroad.
Now, with the new and dynamic patriarch, things seem to be changing.
The proof of this is the last decision taken by the patriarch concerning the building that until 2007 housed in the Dora neighborhood in Baghdad, the patriarchal seminary which will be converted into apartments to be awarded to needy families.

Baghdadhope talked about this with Mar Louis Raphael I Sako who between 1997 and 2001 was the rector of the seminary:
"In January 2007, for safety reasons, the seminary building has been emptied and the seminarians were sent to a spiritual retreat in northern Iraq where they are still currently studying. Since that date, then, the seminary was empty but it is a huge building that includes 70 rooms, classrooms, a large courtyard and even a church. Now that security has improved in the area we decided to allocate it to about 20/25 families among the most in need, the new ones and those who fled abroad, would like to return but do not have a home. For now I housed some families in some empty churches but we need a better solution "
A significant financial commitment I suppose, the renovation and transformation works will weigh more than a little on the budget of the church.
"It 's true but it is necessary to face those costs. The Government Office for the Christians, the Sabians, and the Mandaeans, has secured its economic aid and that area needs a tangible sign of hope. There are about 200 Christian families who live there and who have not even a parish priest. To renovate the seminary building will mean not only to give shelter to someone but also to create a meeting place for all the Christians of Dora, and the church of St. Peter and Paul will soon have a parish priest. "
Does it mean that the seat of the seminary will definitely be in Ankawa?
"No. The Chaldean Church since last year began the construction of a new patriarchal seat in Baghdad and of some buildings to house the Major Seminary and the Babel College. "
Once the Babel College and the major seminary are operational again in Baghdad what will be of the institutions now in Ankawa?
"It 's very early to say, very early to even think to bring everything back to Baghdad. The works for the new patriarchate will end in two years and in any case we must always consider the security situation. Generally speaking, however, the idea is to have a single seat for both in the capital. "
In Baghdad there was also the minor seminary which was also closed years ago. Will it be reopened?
"The problem of the minor seminary will be discussed during the next synod set up to start in Baghdad on June 5th."
Among all the measures taken since you arrived in Baghdad the one that most struck for its firmness and innovation is without any doubt the "freezing" of the goods of the church and the request made to the managers of the Church institutions to follow the criteria of fairness and transparency in financial matters. A very serious accusation even if not detailed that pushed you to create an ad hoc committee made up of clergy and laity ...
"Unfortunately in recent years due to the poor health of the Patriarch Emeritus unable to exercise control over the finances of the church the last suffered huge losses to be recovered.
The commission I created had the task to investigate this matter but will soon be replaced by a monitoring committee. Those responsible for the embezzlement occurred must return what does not belong to them but to the church, and to confess their sins. We are ready to go all the way on the issue, even up in court.
It is important for the church to recover credibility and trust among its faithful. Iraqis are generous, on Good Friday, for example, despite the difficulties we still live in our faithful gave all that they could for the collection we made for the churches of the Holy Land.
These people, ready to give to others, deserve a clean church."

You mentioned the difficulties Iraqis are still living in. Did you promote a
plan of national reconciliation in order to alleviate them? In the last month you met  the most prominent figures in the national political scene and to all of them you spoke of dialogue and peace. What is your evaluation of these meetings?
"Meetings that are not yet finished. In the coming days I will go to Kurdistan to talk to its President, Mas’ud Barzani. These meetings not only promote  a plan to lead Iraq towards peace but strengthen also the presence of Christians acknowledging their important role in the cultural field and in the spreading of dialogue and peace. In Iraq, it is undeniable, there are still a lot of tensions but I had the impression that all the parties are willing and ready to reconcile. The idea at the end of my "tour" is to organize a meeting of all the parts during which they could exchange opinions, maybe listening to the anthem of our beloved country. "
Just about reconciliation. What is the relationship among the Christian churches in Iraq?
"Good. Last week, for the Mass celebrated in honor of Pope Francis there was also a bishop of the Church of the East, only the representatives of the Orthodox churches were absent but they were excused because it was Lent for their church."
Since the day of your election as patriarch you talked about reconciliation between the Chaldean Church and the Assyrian Church of the East whose relationship in recent years had cooled considerably. How is it now?
"We need good will, courage, and, why not, surprising initiatives. The tension that had been created in recent years due to nationalistic fringes of both parties is softening and personal relations are good. Of course there are obstacles, the Assyrian tradition recognizes the primacy of Rome from the spiritual point of view, but not legally - since it is an autocephalous church - but we could find an agreement on what is legal and that, for example, concerns the appointment of bishops and their confirmation by the Holy See. Sure it's a long journey to be made together. "
You invited Pope Francis to visit Ur, the city of Abraham. Any news from Rome?
"The area where Ur is located is in the south and it is a safe area. Baghdad is less safe but I am sure that if the Pope really comes to Iraq the government  will do the impossible to ensure his safety and the smooth carrying out of his visit. Everyone in Iraq is waiting for the Pope. He could go directly to Ur and there read some passages from the Old Testament, the figure of Abraham as it is in the Quran, we could all sing a hymn to peace and say a universal prayer. The next day he could come to Baghdad, meet the members of the government and celebrate the Holy Mass in a stadium .. "
From your words one could say that everything’s ready, the agenda already detailed. Do you want you to give us a date?
"No, no. These are ideas, dreams. Meanwhile, however, I am planning to lead a delegation to Rome to ask to the Holy Father to visit Iraq, and this time officially. Theereafter we'll talk. "
In 2009, the then Archbishop of Kirkuk, Msgr. Sako, suggested to Benedict XVI to organize a synod for the Churches in the Middle East that took place in October of the following year.
Now he is planning to go to Rome to ask to the Pope Francis to visit Iraq.
It 's too early to say if he will succeed, or if the real politik or the Vatican diplomacy will cause his efforts to be fruitless.
If not it would be a historic event: a Pope on a Ziqqurat has never been seen before.

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