These are the Chaldean bishops of Iraq and Syria who have suffered the effects of persecution, war and misery alongside their people. On Wednesday, February 7, they met in Rome with Pope Francis, who is very familiar with the situation of Middle Eastern Christians.
Following the meeting, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon and the Head of the Chaldean Catholic Church Louis RaphaëlI Sako said: “He (the Pope) told us, ‘I’m ready to go to Iraq.’ We told him we wanted him to be with us in the middle of this crisis. He responded by saying he was ready to go to Iraq. I don’t think the current situation helps, above all, the problem with the Kurdish. It would’ve been easier before. I even submitted a program for a one-day papal visit. Security in Iraq has improved. Iraqis want to reconcile. They want stability. I think the lesson has been learned, especially in Islam.”
Explaining the violence that has ripped Iraq, he said: “ISIS was created in Iraq as well as Al-Qaeda 14 years ago, which is why people are asking themselves many questions, in universities, in other environments. There are a million atheists in Iraq. People are asking themselves ‘why’ and looking for an answer. Many times they come to us to ask, but legally we can’t respond. I’m sure religious freedom will come, though. We need time, but you cannot impose a religion on a person who was born free.”
He added: “I went to a Sunni refugee camp. There was an imam and a sheik, a tribe leader. We brought them nearly 2,000 food parcels. One of them came to me and told me, ‘We know your God is love.’ I didn’t need to tell him anything else.”
During his visit to Rome, the patriarch visited the Aid to the Church in Need headquarters, the papal charity that has instituted a Marshall Plan for reconstructing the Nineveh Plains and Mosul and thus helping Christians return to their rightful home for more than 2,000 years. Although the country still lacks the necessary stability to welcome a visit from Pope Francis, Christian families are gradually returning to their homes. At least 7,000 of the 20,000 people who had to abandon the Nineveh Plains and Mosul have come back. The patriarch assures Iraq is looking for peace more than ever following ISIS control.
The Church remains one of the few strongholds the jihadists have been unable to conquer. While they’ve wiped out dozens of temples in their path, they’ve been unable to destroy the essence of Christianity.