By Vatican News staff writer
Christians in Iraq have been invited to participate in a three-day fasting and prayer initiative dubbed “The Resurrection of Nineveh” for peace in the nation and for an end to the pandemic.
Cardinal Louis Raphaël I Sako is encouraging the faithful, beginning on Monday, 25 January and lasting for three days, to fast till noon or evening, with daily participation in special prayers and the celebration of Mass.
In a message, he explained that the name of the prayer initiative is inspired by the biblical story of Jonah, who was sent by God to preach to the inhabitants of the city of Nineveh but refused. Overwhelmed by a sea storm and swallowed by a large fish for three days, Jonah begs for God’s forgiveness. The Cardinal notes that the focus of the story is that God is not only for the Jews but is rather “a merciful God, a compassionate Father who takes care of all His sons and daughters whom He created, and desires their salvation.”
Cardinal Sako further noted that Nineveh was the site of a plague that struck Mesopotamia in the eighth century, and killed many people in a situation, not unlike that of the Covid-19 pandemic of our own times. At that time, he explained, the prophet Ezekiel invited the people to fast for three days for an end to the plague.
He highlighted that the Covid-19 pandemic, which has affected the lives of millions of people, is a “global catastrophe by all standards, with its negative consequences for people’s health, social, cultural, economic and religious activities.” Therefore, as the faithful did in the past, Cardinal Sako continued, we can “turn this painful experience of the pandemic into an opportunity for grace and goodness, through a spiritual and social solidarity.”
“Let us also pray for the return of peace, security and stability to our country and the region after all the wars and conflicts that have exhausted it,” the Cardinal said. “Let us pray also for the success of the visit of Pope Francis. Let us listen to his words as the people of Nineveh heard the words of Jonah so that we can have a better life.”
Iraq has suffered rising insecurity recently. A double suicide bombing took place in a crowded Baghdad market on Thursday, killing at least 32 people and wounding an estimated 100 others.
Expressing shock at the deadly attacks in an interview with Vatican News on Monday, Cardinal Sako lamented their deaths.
News reports say the suicide bombers blew themselves up among a crowd of shoppers at a market in Tayaran Square. The first bomber reportedly lured people towards him by pretending to be ill, only to detonate the explosives. The second bomber struck as people tried to help victims of the first attack.
This latest attack comes days after the Iraqi government postponed general elections from 6 June until 10 October to give more time to electoral authorities to register voters and new parties. Iraqi authorities, while condemning the attacks, suspect that it is an attempt to instill fear among the population in the strife-torn nation.
The last deadly suicide bombing attack in the capital was in January 2018, when 35 people were killed in the same square.
Poor people attack victims
Further lamenting the deadly attack, Cardinal Sako regretted that the victims - mostly poor people – were killed in the bombings.
He stressed that government authorities need to work towards disarming militia groups and that politicians need to exhibit goodwill towards ending the long-running violence in the country. He added that it is the responsibility of the government to ensure peace.
The Church in Iraq
Cardinal Sako highlighted the role of the Church in Iraqi society.
“We are part of Iraqi,” he affirmed. “We do not live alone; we are with all the others. Their pains are ours also. We are brothers and sisters in this big family called Iraq.”
Therefore, the prayer initiative has a double meaning, he explained. "First of all, it affirms that God looks at everyone indiscriminately, and it is a request to the Lord to save us from the ongoing pandemic."
"We need to pray and ask for God's help to be saved and for the pandemic to end in the world. We are not only thinking of us in Iraq but of all the people in the world," the Cardinal said.
Pope Francis’ appeal
Pope Francis on Thursday condemned the twin attacks and described them as “a senseless act of brutality.”
In a telegram sent on his behalf by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Pope said he is “praying for the deceased victims and their families, for the injured and for the emergency personnel in attendance.”
The Pope also expressed his desire that Iraq will continue to work to overcome violence with “fraternity, solidarity and peace.”
Pope’s Apostolic Visit to Iraq
Meanwhile, Pope Francis is scheduled to make the first-ever Apostolic Visit to Iraq from 5 to 8 March. He is expected to visit Baghdad and four other towns: the plain of Ur, the city of Erbil, as well as Mosul and Qaraqosh on the Nineveh plain. Ahead of the Pope’s visit, Cardinal Sako composed a prayer that the local Church has been reciting since 17 January.
The Cardinal expressed his desire that the Pope’s visit will bring “comfort and hope” and that it will be a visit with spiritual connotations that conveys a message that promotes respect for human rights, peace and fraternity while advocating for an end to war and violence.
He added that preparations for the Pope’s visit are being made in collaboration with Iraqi authorities and other religious leaders.