Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako of Baghdad, has returned to Padre Pio’s Hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo — a propitious and opportune occasion to meet with him and to reflect further on new issues, beginning with an updating on the situation in Iraq and concluding with the tragic massacre in Tunisia, again by the hand of the Islamic State.
Following is a translation of the interview, in which the Prelate does not spare a strong condemnation of those “factories of death” that continue to manufacture arms.
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ZENIT: The images of the destruction and massacres carried out by ISIS at Nineveh had widespread international repercussions. Churches profaned and vandalized, crosses removed and black flags raised as sign of conquest — an attempt to cancel the identity of a people and its historical memory. What can you tell us in this regard?
Patriarch Sako: It’s a tragedy. In fact, I heard today (March 19, 2015) that a 5thcentury Monastery, near Mosul, was destroyed. These are people who live in the desert, not understood, however, as a place in which to encounter God in silence, but in the sense of the brutalization and barbarization they seem to have reached. They don’t have respect for others and not even for themselves. It’s not even known what they want. Why destroy everything? It’s good to know that they also kill many Muslims. However, in this way there is no future. We only have negative sequences. One lives in fear. They want to quash everything to begin what? An Islam, as they think of it, isn’t possible. Muslims themselves don’t want it, who are openly against them. I can say that in this way they harm everyone. When I think of this ISIS group there comes to mind the beast of Revelation (Cf. Revelation 12:3ff). Everything destroyed: life and now also stone. I am referring to the Monastery of Saint George, the one where the cross of Christ was removed and the black flag of the Caliphate was raised. I wonder if we will be able to repair all this when peace returns. There are churches with “old” stones that speak of the centuries-old history of our Christianity. A new and modern stone will be able to say little.
ZENIT: What do you think of the alliance between the Iraqi Shiites and the Iranian? Will it be able to repel the advance of the Caliphate?
Patriarch Sako: It’s a complex situation, because it thus becomes a sectarian fight. The Iraqi army is weak and the international coalition doesn’t seem to act in earnest to defeat ISIS. I don’t see a close end to this conflict and also for the suffering of my people, of so many families, women and children. It distresses me also to see these young Shiites and also Sunnis going to die for no purpose. I call for a diplomatic political solution instead of military action. If this massacre isn’t stopped there will be many other destructions.
ZENIT: As key to the biblical reading, you have made reference to the dragon of Revelation, to Satan’s beast. ISIS is similar to the ideologies of the 20thcentury evil. Now, how is the massive presence of evil combined with the time of mercy, for which Pope Francis has also announced an extraordinary Jubilee?
Patriarch Sako: The feast of Saint Joseph gives us an explanation of what I wish to say. The humble father of Jesus refers us to the subject of the conscience. He was a just man, who developed critical thought and who, when he is called to judge, sought also not to harm anyone. In fact, when he saw something that wasn’t right, he tried not to judge and withdrew into prayerful silence. I believe that today there is no adequate formation of consciences. We must note the fact that the desert is advancing, not in the geographic sense. Today we are returning to the desert, namely, to primitive nature. A scene of Scripture describes a desolate land in a world that has lost the redeeming imprint of creation. These criminals have no human sense. They are a factory of death. They have lost the very dignity of their existence. Instead, they were called to be a factory of health. I have an example under my eyes. I have been literally overcome by the charism lived in this hospital, in which I find myself. – Padre Pio’s Hospital, the House of Relief of Suffering. I would like to recount this testimony because it seems to me very indicative for today. Here one breathes a sort of alliance for health. So many people come to work here for the same objective. I always invoke Padre Pio in moments of difficulty; in prayer I ask him to intercede with the Lord for my people. And I hope to be able to transmit his charism as soon as possible in Iraq. All this makes me think that in man’s heart there is the aspiration to good, and with the good there is peace and happiness. And when the good is done there is everything.
ZENIT: Now we are in need of prophetic testimonies that, to use your image, are configured as “factories of well-being” which repel forcefully the “factories of death.”
Patriarch Sako: Yes, I will go into greater detail of the image. It’s awful to see that factories of arms exist in the world – so many countries that invest in the manufacture of arms and, among them, unfortunately, also Italy. And now I ask myself, but Italy is a country of Saints, it is the place in the world with the most Saints, it’s a holy land, but why does it continue to manufacture arms, which then serve to kill innocent people? Why not manufacture good things so that one can sleep in peace with one’s conscience, in harmony with oneself?. I think man must think of a radical change of all this. An Italy that is ready for this virtuous testimony. It could be an example for the world, in its little beginning to trigger a positive tendency, a new style that expresses the quality of its Christian tradition.
ZENIT: What else would you like to add for the benefit of all those who have peace at heart, for those committed to justice who would like to try to do something to reverse the course of things?
Patriarch Sako: I say that we are called to rethink everything somewhat. Politics must be just and not have individual interests, not encourage the greed of those countries that only intend to abuse others and destroy those who don’t correspond to their intentions. Politics must not be egoistic. The economy must not determine social exclusions and the marginalization of the poor, who often become ever poorer, as Pope Francis has reminded in Evangelii Gaudium. However, religion must also be able to speak to hearts and to enlighten minds.
Then my thought goes to young people. I fear for the many children who don’t go to school. There are millions, between Syria and Iraq. My concern is that they constitute a field from which religious fanaticism might develop, because they are left marginalized at the mercy of false prophets. In Iraq there are at least 10 million students. However, in Mosul, for instance, the schools are closed, as well as in Tikrit. This isn’t right. Why was I able to go to school and others not? Instead it’s necessary to form people, to direct them to the good and not to evil. The good, in fact, it not only Christian, it’s human, it’s in man’s nature. Every child is a miracle. However, if a child is not given some direction, he can become something awful. I am thinking of the ISIS’ training camps, where there are children of seven years of age and over. Every child is a project, he is future. We can’t leave them like this.
ZENIT: One last thought on the massacre in the Bardo museum of Tunisia …
Patriarch Sako: A further example of the dominion of evil, namely all those negative relations that, incrusted in time as true and proper structures of sin, falsify the reality. It isn’t easy to seek the reasons for this evil. Why does ISIS exist? Why do we have the phenomenon of foreign fighters? Whose fault is it? Society’s? Young people’s? Religions? Many young people don’t have work; they are hungry, but many others have interior voids; they do
n’t have a spiritual life. And behold the massacre of Tunisia. A massacre that puts before us a firm decision to put a stop to every form of evil. Why not do something to avoid evil? All these murdered tourists wanted to live; they had families, dreams, plans, desires. It distresses one greatly to see these lives broken by hatred.