Cardinal Sako: Being named cardinal is a gift for Iraqi Muslims

“The pope has thus expressed his closeness to the Christians of Iraq, he tells them they are not forgotten,” says the patriarch.

On May 20, the pope released the list of the new cardinals. Among them, Francis included the Chaldean Patriarch, Louis Raphael Sako.

The Church of Iraq has celebrated this appointment as a sign of Francis closeness to Christians who have suffered all kinds of difficulties for years.

Patriarch of the Chaldean Church, Iraq
“This appointment means the pope’s presence in this country, which has suffered so much, and among the Iraqi Christians who have suffered so much. The pope expresses his closeness to these people, his solidarity. He tells them that they are not forgotten. He has built a bridge.”

In an Iraq devastated by wars and the passage of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, wounds are healing little by little. As important as it is to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure, it’s as important to restore lost coexistence. News such as the appointment as Patriarch Sako Cardinal have been a gift for the whole country, not only for Christians.

“Muslims have received this news as a gift to Iraq, as a gesture of support for Iraq. It means that Iraq is also present in the universal Catholic Church in a way that now includes Iraq.”

As an image of the effort to recover the coexistence, one can see the patriarch sharing dinner at the end of Ramadan with his Muslim neighbors.

“They spoke in a different way when the Iraqi Church offered them dinner. They realized our appreciation for them, for their fasting, for their religion. We respect them and this helps a lot in coexistence.”

Yet, there are still steps to be taken, such as separating religion and state definitively or giving Iraqi Christians a place in society and not considering them second-class citizens.

“The future for Christians will be better. Peace will come, because no war has lasted forever, right? Religious freedom will also come and people will be able to think freely and choose their own religion.”

The Patriarch has become a cardinal for a Church that has been downsized, but not defeated. Although there are less than half the Christians that were there a decade ago, those who remain in Iraq are not willing to leave the land that had belonged to them since the time of Abraham.