Monday, 22 September 2003

Mosul (Fides Service) – In the new Iraq, Mosul, the historical Ninive where Christians have always been present, has in its Provincial Council, the civil authority in the area, for the first time a Chaldean priest, Rev. Louis Sako. Father Sako, a parish priest in Mosul who is committed to youth pastoral and Muslim/Christian dialogue is also a Consultor of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Fides Service asked Father Sako about the situation and about his work in the field of social assistance.

What do you think of the present situation in Iraq? Is life better than in the past?
Before the US led war of liberation Iraq was one great barracks full of soldiers and arms: no one was allowed to criticise or protest, life was militarised. Today, although there are still many problems, people live a more normal life, there is an atmosphere of freedom and democracy. People are free to choose their representatives, hold street demonstrations, publish newspapers. Of course the war has not restored security as we would wish, but gradually things are working out. Peace is a project which requires time and it depends on the efforts of everyone. Today in Iraq there is a new spirit and I am very optimistic that the future will be better

As a member of the Council, are you not afraid of being attacked by terrorists like Mrs Akila Al Hashmi in Baghdad?
I am not afraid because I defend the poor and the oppressed, I work for the good of Christians and Muslims, and I see that people appreciate this. The Council offered me five body guards, but I refused because I think we must be examples of confidence: I know God will protect me because I am working for the good of the civil community in Mosul.

How can you do the work of a parish priest and be a member of the Council?
A priest must always organise his time to include the priestly ministry and other services. I have a lot of lay people who help me in the parish. And my political commitment will be temporary, only for this period of transition: I accepted the position because I want to make my contribution towards building a future of peace and serenity in which Iraqi Christians will also benefit.

How many Christian representatives are there in the Mosul Provincial Council?
The Council has 24 members: 16 Arabs, 3 Christians, 3 Kurds and 1 Turkmen. The members form various commissions: I am on the Commission for culture, university and religious buildings. I must say that my experience of dialogue with Muslim intellectuals and leaders facilitates my work for the Municipal Council where I am addressed a Abuna, or Father.

What does the Council do? Does its activity include initiatives in favour of the local Christian community?
We work for the good of the whole community in Mosul and the problems we face are often due to the fact that the fall of the regime brought sudden change and people need time to get used to the new situation. As a member of the Council I work to protect the social, political and religious rights of the Christian community. Today Christians may have their own newspapers (in Mosul there are already five new Christian publications) and there are plans for Christian radio and T V channels. We are also trying to retrieve land around St George’s Monastery in Mosul which belonged to Chaldean monks and was confiscated by the Saddam Hussein regime and to help the return of the people forced at the time to abandon their homes and villages. In some towns, where the people are mainly Christians, the Council, which governs the whole province, has chosen a Christian mayor for surrounding villages like Alqosh, Karakosh, Telkef. BM (Fides Service 22/9/2003 BM lines 60 Words: 643)