The “conclave” of bishops of the ancient Eastern Church has elected the Archbishop of Kirkuk, Louis Sako, as Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans – a pastoral choice which aims to bring equilibrium to an area in which Christians are having a particularly tough time
The Chaldean “conclave” held in Rome, has elected the Archbishop of Kirkuk, Luis Sako as the new Patriarch of the Chaldean Church, whose official name becomes Louis Raphaël I Sako. Ankawa.com and the official website of the Chaldean Patriarchate of Babylon announced the news this morning. The appointment became official when Pope Benedict XVI sent the new Patriarch his Ecclesiastical Communio after he passed the required majority of two-thirds of the 15 voting Bishops. The new 63-year old Chaldean Church leader was born in a village near the Iraqi city of Zakho in July 1949 and studied at the Dominican seminary of Mosul. He entered the priesthood in 1974 and completed a PhD in Eastern Christian studies in Rome. After a period as Rector of Baghdad’s Major Seminary, he was nominated Archbishop of Kirkuk in 2003. Sako is highly esteemed by Benedict XVI. In 2010, the Pope accepted his request to convene a Synod for the Middle East.
The selection of the new patriarch is an important one for the future of the Iraqi Church. The bishops have chosen a pastoral and moderate figure that is not only focused on the ritualistic identity of the Chaldean Church. Sako has never felt any nostalgia for the Sadam Hussein years but is not pro-American either. He has also been the bishop of one of the country’s most difficult areas, on the border with Kurdistan. A day or so ago, Mgr. Sako launched an appeal through Fides news agency for the future of Christians in the Middle East. He defined their future as “worrying” “as are certain things that one hears on the Arab Spring by certain leaders.” Sako said he hoped “for an initiative of the Holy See and the universal Church to mobilize the international community in support of Christians in the Middle East,” stating that the “mixture of ethnicities, religions and languages” present in the Middle East inevitably leads to tensions and conflicts, because in that region of the world “a criterion of citizenship able to integrate everyone, regardless of religion or ethnicity they belong has never been established.” According to the Archbishop, the “disruptive processes now taking place in Iraq – and that in the future may also affect Syria – “worsen the situation,” because in the voids of institutional power safety is no longer guaranteed and open spaces for action concerning criminal and extremist groups.”
“We wonder if it is still possible to think of a harmonious way of living together ” the Chaldean Archbishop writes, referring to the discrimination suffered by those who do not follow what he calls the “State religion”.” According to the newly elected Chaldean patriarch, this condition “is aggravated by the Middle East strategies put in place by the various geopolitical parties: “The international community” writes the Archbishop, with clear reference to the Syrian conflict “believes that we can improve the situation by supporting an uncertain program to reach democracy through weapons! The result is the clash between armed opposition and a system that destroys everything.”
“These churches of apostolic origin – Sako went on to say – deserve adequate support from the universal Church in their mission of communion and witness”. An “international support, favoured by the universal Church, would be a great help to try to ensure a decent life for all.” In particular, the Holy See is recognized by the Archbishop of the Eastern rite of having a “crucial role” to “guarantee Christians the opportunity to live in their country.”
The Chaldean Church’s new shepherd chose the words “authenticity, unity, renewal” as his motto. These are the three pillars of his new role. “I feel I have been called to a heavy responsibility, and I have a little ‘fear,” the new Patriarch told Fides news agency. “We are facing many difficulties, in the country and even outside the country,” said His Exc. Mgr. Sako, “but with the help of Christ and the collaboration between the Bishops we will live a unity that will allow us to rebuild the Chaldean house. A house that will always be open to other Churches – starting with our Assyrian brothers – and our Muslim fellow citizens.”