By Francesca Merlo
Recently appointed Iraqi Cardinal Louis Raphaël Sako issued an appeal in a heart-felt letter to the citizens of Iraq this week. In his letter he asks for help from the people in order to promote harmony, unity and partnership in their country.
Cardinal Sako is the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon and Head of the Chaldean Catholic Church.
Over recent years Iraq has been consumed by cycles of warfare. The country is living through an ever growing refugee crisis along with omnipresent sectarianism - which has led to the rapid spread of the so-called Islamic State extremist movement (ISIS). ISIS have seized the majority of north western Iraq, along with bordering parts of Syria, and are constantly increasing their recruitment of young Muslims worldwide. Through the approval of a new constitution and by holding parliamentary and provincial elections there has been some progress made in replacing Iraq’s constitution from the Saddam Hussein era. Iraq’s government does however still remain weak, thus jeopardising its long-term stability.
The mission of an Iraqi Cardinal
Cardinal Sako begins his letter by stating how thankful he is to Pope Francis “for nominating an ‘Iraqi citizen’ to be a cardinal and to bear such a distinct mission.”
He says that this mission is to serve his “devastated country” and everyone in it, no exceptions. He realises that being Cardinal means assuming responsibilities towards the Universal Church, giving him more ground to serve and “join all those with good will to achieve the common goals that we are looking for.”
Unifying the red of blood and the red of love
Cardinal Sako makes an interesting symbolic correlation between the red of the Cardinal’s dress and the current situation in Iraq. The red symbolizes martyrdom – “the blood of so many martyrs that has been shed on this land…” This same red, to him, also symbolizes love, and he believes it should “inflame the heart of the person who wears it, so that he offers his life for those who he loves unconditionally.” In this case the heart is his and his unconditional love goes to the people of Iraq.
Hope of reconciliation
In his letter, Cardinal Sako urges Iraqi citizens to help promote harmony, to strengthen unity and partnership among themselves and to create an "environment based on love, justice, equality, freedom, dignity and peace. Knowing that we have no future without peace and living together.” He states that religion and violence are incompatible and calls upon Christian, Muslim and other religious authorities to contribute to this building of reconciliation in order to defeat extremism and violence.
Message to politicians and protestors
Cardinal Sako advises Iraqi politicians to act upon equal citizenship and not on personal interest, to put an end to this “acting war” and to speed up the formation of a strong Government, capable of eradicating corruption and improving services.
His advice to protestors is to focus on their rights avoiding violence and its consequences, stating that it is the Government’s responsibility to protect them and respond to them.
Cardinal Sako ends his letter saying he hopes that the positive signs they have seen will help overcome Iraq’s worries and fears and remain proud of their country. He signs off with three words: “Long live Iraq.”