Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "What we strongly wish from our dear Pope Francis is a visit to Iraq, even a brief one," said Mar Louis Raphael I Sako, Chaldean Patriarch of Iraq, in his speech at the 2014 International Symposium organised by AsiaNews, held today at the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome.
For Iraqi Christians, this is "the closest they will feel his proximity and presence", whilst for the country as a whole, it "will give a push" to Islamic-Christian coexistence, involving the West in a way "that fosters peace."
The theme of this year's meeting is Mission in Asia: from Pope John Paul II to Pope Francis, which aims to highlight the continuity between the missionary zeal of the Polish Pope and the first steps taken by Bergoglio in Asia and the Middle East.
In his speech, the Chaldean Patriarch said that "John Paul II had always been opposed to the war against Iraq" and the Western economic embargo that "caused the death of many Iraqis."
Pope John Paul II "wanted to come to Iraq," Mar Sako added, but could not "fulfil his wish" and had to "settle for a symbolic celebration" of the trip to Ur of the Chaldeans.
He did however show constant "fatherly and pastoral concern for our Churches, even though we are a small flock," the patriarch noted.
Following in John Paul II's footsteps, Pope Francis has expressed his support and solidarity for the Christians of Iraq and the Middle East "at a time of great trial," as he did with his "prayer campaign" that "stopped the military intervention" in Syria and the visit by Card Fernando Filoni with displaced families on the pope's behalf and as he is doing now with the special letter he "is now writing for us."
Mar Sako went on to express gratitude for the help and solidarity expressed to his community, like the Adopt a Christian from Mosul campaign promoted by AsiaNews.
The Christian exodus is "the greatest challenge" that must be addressed, starting with the "liberation of Mosul and Christian villages in the Nineveh Plain" that have fallen into the hands of the militias of the Islamic State.
Lastly, Iraq's Christian heritage must be protected, the patriarch warned, including the many "ancient churches that date back to the fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries, as well as [other] monuments and the many still unpublished manuscripts."
"I will not resign myself to an Iraq and a Middle East without Christians," Mar Sako said in concluding, "we, who for 2000 years have born witness in the name of Jesus," because "our contribution is essential to the social, cultural and religious life of our country."