Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, was alongside Pope Francis during the most significant moments of the Pope’s trip to Iraq.
For Cardinal Sako, the trip was a moment of pride for Iraqis. He is pleased his home country was able to organize such a complicated visit.
Pope Francis’ trip strengthened dialogue between Muslims and Christians in the region. After meeting with the Pope, the Grand Ayatollah, Ali al-Sistani, called for the full recognition of Christians’ constitutional rights in Iraq.
Reflecting on the visit, Cardinal Sako said, “It was an extraordinary visit during a very difficult time due to security issues, the pandemic, and the diverse needs of the Iraqi people. Collaboration between religions is central to defeating hate. The Pope said, if we want to have a better future we must live as brothers. Otherwise, we will destroy ourselves.”
The trip revealed the plight of Christians in Iraq. In 2003 there were more than 1.4 million in the region. Today fewer than 300,000 remain.
War and violence drove Christian Iraqis out of their homes. Now, the Pope is asking them to return. He said, "And if you can, return to your homes."
Cardinal Sako says there are many things the West can do to help displaced Christians return to their land.
Even only a visit, just to come and be with them, would mean a lot to the Christians.(These visits) give us the strength to persevere. They are also a sign to our fellow citizens that we will not be forgotten, and that we are not merely targets,” he said.
Another significant way to help Christians in Iraq is by contributing to development and reconstruction efforts.
He said, “Above all to create jobs and to improve the infrastructures in Christian communities in the Nineveh Plain and Kurdistan. There are also agricultural development projects in these areas, and plans to build wells because there is a lot of water nearby.”
The Pope’s visit to Iraq has given the country the opportunity to open a new chapter in its history. With Muslims and Christians working together to rebuild their country, a beacon of hope now shines after years of war in this sacred land.