Patriarch Sako: Pope Francis is Ready to Go to Iraq

Report from the international Catholic news network Aleteia

At the consistory that Pope Francis wished to dedicate to the tragic situation in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Iraq, Aleteia had the opportunity to interview the Chaldean Patriarch of Baghdad, Louis Raphael I Sako. His Beatitude took part in the meeting together with 86 other representatives from the Eastern Catholic Churches.

During the Consistory, what requests did you make for support for your community?

First I addressed Pope Francis: he is the father of all Christians. The ones who need him most are the “little flock” in Iraq and Syria. Our people need his word and consolation and encouragement. I asked him to write a personal message, a brief pastoral letter, as Paul had done for the first Christian communities, exhorting the Christians to persevere.

And you didn’t ask him to come in person?

Of course. Even for a day, for a brief visit. His presence will support us in facing the government, in facing the Muslim authorities. The people will also say: “Voilà, the Christians are not forgotten or isolated.”

How did the Pope respond?

He said: “I’m ready.” In any case, he will write a letter in the coming days.

Severe weather and heavy rains bring further suffering to displaced Iraqis who found refuge in the province of Dohuk, Iraq.
Severe weather and heavy rains bring further suffering to displaced Iraqis who found refuge in the province of Dohuk, Iraq.

At the Consistory, how did you describe the situation of Christians in Iraq and the Middle East?

The Christian presence is under threat: we are in danger of disappearing. We are being oppressed and forced into exodus. This form of ISIS terrorism eliminates everyone, especially Christians. It is a closed ideology that expresses itself through violence. The people live in panic. Therefore the Church, but also the international community—I asked the Episcopal Conferences throughout the world to intervene with their own governments in this regard—must protect minorities and a historical Christian presence which plays a role in dialogue and mediation between the various communities.

In today’s meeting, there was talk about the difficulty bishops are having in such a difficult and even life-threatening situation, in advising Christians to emigrate or to stay: What do you say?

We have been there for two thousand years. We have a mission and a role, and if a future exists for the Chaldean Church it is not in the diaspora but in Iraq. If all the families leave, and even the priests, the entire history and Chaldean Christian patrimony will vanish. There will be a break with two thousand years of history. There is a future; there is a future for Christians if they remain united. They must have the courage to say things clearly and to reclaim their rights. Not all Muslims are ISIS! I continually meet religious leaders and civilians and they want to help us. It’s a very bad situation, but it will not last. You have to have patience and persevere. What does Christian hope mean concretely if we do not see it? We must help Christians to remain. This “Passion” will pass.





Terrorism in Mideast has reached 'unimaginable proportions,' pope says

Article from The Catholic News Service

The Middle East, especially Iraq and Syria, are experiencing "terrorism of previously unimaginable proportions" in which the perpetrators seem to have absolutely no regard for the value of human life, Pope Francis said.

"It seems that the awareness of the value of human life has been lost; it seems that the person does not count and can be sacrificed to other interests. And all of this, unfortunately, with the indifference of many," he said during a special meeting at the Vatican on the Middle East.

The pope met Oct. 20 with cardinals gathered for an ordinary public consistory to approve the canonization of new saints, and to discuss the current situation in the Middle East.

The pope announced during the Oct. 5-19 extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family that he would include a discussion on the Middle East at the Oct. 20 consistory in order to let the region's seven patriarchs, who were taking part in the synod, also attend the proceedings. It was the second such high-level summit the pope convened at the Vatican; the first was an Oct. 2-4 meeting of the region's apostolic nuncios and top Vatican officials.

Pope Francis told those gathered that in the wake of the closing of the extraordinary synod that he wanted to focus attention on "another issue that is very close to my heart, that is, the Middle East, and in particular, the situation of Christians in the region."

"Recent events, especially in Iraq and Syria, are very worrisome," he said.

"We are witnessing a phenomenon of terrorism of previously unimaginable proportions. Many of our brothers and sisters are persecuted and have had to leave their homes, in a brutal manner, too."

"This unjust situation demands, beyond our constant prayers, an adequate response from the part of the international community as well," he said.

The church is united in its "desire for peace and stability in the Middle East and the desire to promote the resolution of conflicts through dialogue, reconciliation and political efforts," he said.

However, "at the same time, we want to offer the Christian communities the most help possible to support their presence in the region," he said.

As hundreds of thousands of Christians have been forced to flee because of increased violence, "We cannot resign ourselves to imagining a Middle East without Christians, who for 2,000 years have been professing the name of Jesus."

The pope said he was certain the day's meeting would produce "valuable reflections and suggestions to be able to help our brothers and sisters who suffer and also to respond to the tragedy of the decreasing Christian presence in the land where Christianity was born."

Priests race to save manuscripts from jihadists in Iraq

As fighters from the Islamic State group rampage across northern Syria and Iraq, a group of priests are racing against time to save what's left of the region's Christian heritage. Dominican Order priests have already managed to get many precious artifacts and manuscripts safely to Erbil in Kurdistan [Iraq]. Read the full article from France 24 here.

Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite patriarch, was among the seven patriarchs representing the Latin-rite and Eastern Catholic churches at the meeting.

The cardinal said the pope's concern and calls for coordinated action represent "real moral support, but also real diplomatic support because the Holy See also has its role, its important influence on an international level," he told Vatican Radio Oct. 19.

Just as the Vatican has endorsed sanctioned force according to international law in order to stop unjust aggression, Cardinal Rai said, something must be done to stop the violence.

"It is not possible that in the 21st century we have reverted to primitive law, where an organization shows up, uproots you from your home and your land, and says, 'You are out of here,' and the international community watches -- inert and neutral. It is not possible."

He said what is really painful is knowing that there are "many countries in the East and West that support these fundamentalist organizations and terrorists for their own interests -- political and economic -- and support these terrorist organizations with money, with arms and politically."

Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite Catholic Patriarch of Antioch with H.H. Pope Francis at the Vatican 19/10/2014
Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite Catholic Patriarch of Antioch with H.H. Pope Francis at the Vatican 19/10/2014

When the church says the international community has a responsibility to act and do something to stop the violence, he said they are not pointing to some nameless entity, but rather specifically to "the United Nations, the (U.N.) Security Council and the International Criminal Court" to take on their responsibilities.

"They must act, otherwise where do we go? The United Nations loses its reason to exist. This assembly of nations was created to protect peace and justice in the world, right? However, now it has become a tool in the hands of the great powers. It is impossible to accept that."

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican's secretary of state, told the Oct. 20 assembly that the United Nations must act "to prevent possible and new genocides and to help the numerous refugees."

While it is licit to use force within the framework of international law to stop unjust aggression and protect people from persecution, he said it is clear that a complete resolution of the problems in the region cannot be found in "just a military response."

In his talk, which was a summary of the Oct. 2-4 meeting with Vatican diplomats and officials, the cardinal said the international community also "must go to the root of the problems, recognize past mistakes" and work to promote peace and development in the region.

Experience has shown that "war, instead of dialogue and negotiations, increases suffering," the cardinal said in his lengthy talk.

Violence only leads to destruction, he said, so the first, most urgent step is for all sides in the Middle East "to lay down their arms and talk."

To help bring stability to the region, long-lasting and just political solutions must be found for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said. The international community should also improve its relations with Iran to help in the resolution of the crisis in nearby Iraq and Syria, he added.

Israel treated over 1,400 wounded Syria militants: Analyst

Iran's Press TV reports: Israeli political commentator, Ehud Yaari, says the Tel Aviv regime has provided medical treatment for hundreds of wounded militants fighting against the Syrian government. Full article and video report here.

When it comes to the so-called Islamic State, he said, focus must be on who is supporting them, not just politically but also through "illegal trade of petroleum and the supply of arms and technology."

Muslim leaders have a responsibility to denounce the religious claims of the Islamic State and "to condemn the killing of others for religious reasons and every kind of discrimination."

"It is a moral obligation for everyone to say enough to so much suffering and injustice and to begin a new journey" where everyone has a role and rights as citizens in building up their country and its future, he said. Original article here.



Petition to Journalists asking for responsible and accountable reporting on Syria. Please sign

H.E. The Sunni Grand Mufti of Syria, Sheikh Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun - I am the Mufti of all Syrians – Sunni Muslims, Christians, Alawites, Druze – of all the diversity of sects we had before the war. There is no choice other than reconciliation."

H.B. John X Yazigi, Antiochian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch -

The Antiochian Orthodox Patriarch in Syria, John Yazigi, says Syrian Christians "will not submit and yield" to foreign-backed extremist militants who attack "our people and holy places."

H.E. Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Qabbani, Sunni Grand Mufti of Lebanon - “Christians’ fears nowadays over their presence and their dignity in the Middle East are right and justified”

H.B Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite Catholic Patriarch of Antioch - The West and other countries are helping to foment conflict in the Middle East "there is a plan to destroy the Arab world for political and economic interests"

H.E Sheikh Abdul Amir Qabalan, Deputy President of the Higher Shiite Council Lebanon - Called on the U.S to “work on giving people their freedom in Syria by refraining from supporting radical Islamists and criminals who are killing innocent people and violating their freedoms.

 H.B. Gregorios III Laham, Melkite greek-Catholic Patriarch of Antioch - "Every day Islamic extremists from all over the world are pouring into Syria with the sole intent to kill and not one country has done anything to stop them."

H.H. Mor Ignatios Zakka I Iwas, Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch (R.I.P.) - "Syrians are the only ones who will decide their destiny, and that decision will be taken in Damascus, not in a European country."

H.H. Mor Ignatius Ephrem II Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch -  “Christians and Muslims alike are exposed to a terrorist war in the region”.... the Patriarch denounced the silence of the world regarding crimes committed by armed terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq.

H.B. Youssef III Younan,  Syriac Catholic Patriarchs of Antioch - "We Syrian Christians, sold by the West for oil” - "Christians in the Middle East have not only been abandoned, but we have been lied to and betrayed by Western nations, like the United States and the European Union."

H.B. Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, “Who appointed them [United States] as ‘policemen of democracy’ in the Middle East? ”

H.E. Maroun Laham, Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan  - “This interest, on the part of the United States or of Europe, for human rights or for the defence of the weak, no one believes. No one believes it!,”

H.E. Jacques Behnan Hindo,  Syriac Catholic Archbishop ofHassaké-Nisibi (northeastern Syria) - Regarding the U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, and the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabuis “Please excuse my expression. They are screwing all Syrians

H.E. Theodosius Hanna, Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Sebastia (Nablus, Palestine) - "Will the displacement of Christians from Syria, their killing and slaughter and the destruction of their churches lead to an alleged democracy?"

Rev. Georges Massouh Antiochian Orthodox priest and director of the Christian Muslim Studies Center at Balamand University, Lebanon. "It goes without saying that Christians in Syria do not consider themselves greater or more important that their Muslim partners in the one nation. They find themselves in solidarity with all the people of Syria, in the calamities that they share and the strikes that fall upon all their heads."