War, massacres, devastation, ruins. For long years everyday life in Iraq was marked with violence, death and fear. In 2003 US armies occupied much of Iraq, Saddam was captured, his regime collapsed. The death of the dictator was followed by a power vacuum, whereby several extremist Sunni organisations, infamous for their terrorist attacks, merged to form the Islamic State of Iraq. Shortly after their military units entered the Syrian Civil War, created a caliphate on the Sunni majority populated areas and from then on named themselves Islamic State (ISIS). There was a massive inflow of soldiers from the shattered armies of the surrounding region to join the jihadist forces. Their cruel massacres were video messaged to the whole world. For quite some time the mass murders of the innocents, the Christians and Shiites, as well as the assaults, rapes, mutilation of women and children were approached with apathy around the whole world. The reports on the region clearly showed, that even those the Sunni Arabs, longing for peace, were also targeted by the ISIS.
Not only the Christians, but the world heritage have been destroyed
In such circumstances in January 2013, Louis Raphaël Sako was elected Patriarch of the Chaldeans and Cardinal of Baghdad. It is not an exaggeration to say that he took over the leadership of the Chaldean Catholic Church in the hardest days of its history. For many years by now, as a Cardinal he is pushing for dialogue between the various social groups, authorities and the government.
During the ravage of the Islamic State he was brave and strong to raise his voice. With his shocking cry for help towards the international Christian community he put into the spotlight the events in Iraq and Syria. Amongst others it was a fact that due to the extremists’ violent attacks half of the one million Catholics of Iraq was forced to escape from their home. Hundreds of thousands left Iraq as well. They are either piled into refugee camps or -in the hope of a new and safe life- tried to reach Europe.
In one of his statement Louis Raphaël Sako said: “the fundamentalist Islam wants everything to be Islamised. On top of that the corruption is also present. As I mentioned previously those who show themselves religious or gracious, maybe are not even believers. Faith is a great excuse to pursue their own plan, thus they are talking about religion.”
The Cardinal issued several calls to the world through situation analysis and cry for help in the interest of the Iraqi community survival. As a result several countries, Hungary amongst, provided financial assistance. Even there was a peace march for them in Lyon, France, which raised hope.
“Peaceful, innocent Christians are persecuted. This is extremely scandalous. The whole world should make a step to put an end to these actions“– said the Patriarch during the worst bloodsheds. “We worry about our heritage as well: in Mosul churches from the 5th and 10th centuries were torched and destroyed. They are all gone. If a modern church is bombed, we can build another one, but the historical heritage cannot be retrieved. This heritage does not exclusively belong to the Christians or to Iraq, these are world heritage. Everyone should do something, instead of the apathetic expectations.”
“The faithless are the ones who are persecuting us”
During his visit to Hungary in 2017 the Cardinal of Baghdad spoke to magyarkurir.hu about the huge responsibility of the persecuted community of the Catholic Church that they have to do their best to normalise the situation in Iraq.
“I myself paid several visits to Muslim settlements around Mosul in order to help 4 thousand Muslim families. We took them food, medicines and told them we were Christians, came from Baghdad, travelled 400 kilometres since we are with them, we are brothers and are not faithless. Those are the faithless who are persecuting us and harmed them as well. It is very important to show, that we are Christians, we are good and peaceful. They have no reason to fear of us at all: whenever we are talking about truth we strongly show out our faith, thus people respect us. Sometimes the moderate Muslims confess that they also have fear, some are talking strongly, but are very few. Even the Muslim world should face the challenge, they have future only if there is a dialogue. Another important issue for the Islam is whether it is ready to modernizing. Religious message should reach every generation. The words need to be understood by a new way, alike to us, Christians. During the time of Mohamed there were many difficulties, wars, the mentality was completely different. Since then 1400 years have passed, the world has changed, the mass communication made the world a small village. These changes need lots of work, unfortunately as far as I see the west uses it only, helping its development instead.”
Rome has also reacted to the Iraqi call for help: Popo Frances elected Sako a Cardinal. This was a message to Iraq and its inhabitants. The Patriarch reported that both Musulmans and Christians congratulated on the appointment. He absolutely feels that this gesture is an important support from the Holy See, it gives strength on the way forward to the reconciliation of Iraq.
The military, with international cooperation, took back the cities and villages both in Iraq and Syria previously occupied by the Islamic State, the last fighting forces of the terrorist organisation withdrew to the deserts of Syria.
Hope in the hopelessness
Arms are silent by now in Iraq. With the cooperation of many countries –amongst others our country as well- though slowly, but the reconstruction has started. The Christians and Shiites inhabited territories suffered the worst, since mostly these two communities were living between Erbil and Mosul and the Islamic State destroyed everything systematically. People were persecuted, executed, those who were not able to flee were harassed continuously by the militants. Mosul family heads reported that for two years’ time they did not let their children and wives out to the street, being afraid of their kidnapping. The 6-7 years of children were gathered regularly by the ISIS in order to make them suicide bombers. The war requested a mountain of victims. Millions of people spiritually broken, or with no hope witness the cruel bloodsheds. Survivals of recent horrors distrust the state organisations since the Iraqi governments were unable to provide protection. Now they are looking for support and hope. Louis Raphaël Sako and the Christian community work hard to ensure their return into newly built homes and to start a new, peaceful life.
The Cardinal of Baghdad will also be the guest of the Eucharistic Congress, his speech will be presented on the HungExpo.