Chaldean Patriarch Sako ditches traditional headdress to embrace modernity

Sako with Benedict XVI
Today Patriarch Sako met the Pope and the members of the Chaldean Synod that elected him. He favours the introduction of local languages to the liturgy
Andrea Tornielli
vatican city
“Whatever the origin of nationalism and fundamentalism, they hinder the path to development and peace.” The Patriarch of the Chaldean Church, Louis Raphaël I Sako, was elected last 31 January by the Synod of Chaldean Bishops who met in Rome and celebrated the divine liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica today. Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, who attended the celebration on behalf of the Pope, said: “We ask for special mercy and blessings to be bestowed upon you so that the Good Shepherd may wipe away the tears of the Iraqi people and console, encourage, correct and always pacify brothers and sons and accompany them in their testimony.” Sako and the other bishops were then received by Benedict XVI and the new Patriarch was interviewed by Italian blog Baghdadhope.

Sako’s words painted a picture of an open-minded religious leader who wants to give new impetus to dialogue. The Patriarch explained his motto which contains the words “authenticity”, “unity” and “renewal”, he said: “The first word of the motto is authenticity and by this I mean the need to be true and sincere with ourselves and others, be clear and speak without fear. Being free to express one’s own opinion even if it contrasts with the opinion of the person we are speaking with but showing the necessary sensitivity and tact to make our criticisms constructive.”

“Unity must also be sought on a personal, ecclesiastical, ecumenical and interreligious level – he added – and I will never tire of saying that dialogue is essential in achieving this. This is because it is the only way of countering violence and and the only thing that can give us a future. Renewal is going to take a great deal of effort to achieve. Attention needs to be given to quantitative and above all qualitative training of clergy, focusing on the cleric’s role as an inspirer and representative of dialogue both within and outside the Church. There needs to be a greater focus to the figure of the lay person within the Church. The lay person is a partner who needs to increasingly become an integrated part of pastoral and diocesan councils. In order for this partnership to work, the barriers between the clergy and the laity need to come down, eliminating all traces of clericalism linked to respectable but dated traditions. Essentially, we need to stop living in the past. The Church’s message needs to be embodied in modern day life and in the people of today.”

The Patriarch’s comments on the liturgy were also important: “As St. John Chrysostom said, the liturgy was made for man, not the other way round. We are Easterners and as such, our pastoral and spiritual line of thought is Eastern, but needs to adapt tot he modern times, with a language that is more direct and does not neglect our traditions as “Church of the martyrs” but that also speaks to faithful about mercy and joy, salvation and hope.”

Answering a question on the use of the Arabic language in the liturgy, Sako said: “We are all tied together and respect our history and traditions, proposing improvements in some areas…Traditions must be respected, but at the same time, we also need to express our closeness to people, not just through the use of a simple language that can be understood by everyone, but also by using the language that is spoken locally. This could be Arabic, Kurdish or Persian. The Gospel needs to be brought up to date.”

Finally, the new Patriarch answered a question on the nationalist currents that have been harming the Chaldean Church over the last ten years because of a widespread tendency to see Chaldeans as different from faithful of other religions in Iraq, from both a religious and ethnical point of view.

“This issue – Sako stated – needs to be looked into in great historical, scientific and linguistic detail and the Church and laity have a crucial role to play in this. Our Church is local and universal at the same time and terms such as “Chaldean” or “Assyrian” are the legacy of a colonialism that aimed to divide communities of the same origin… “Whatever the origin of nationalism and fundamentalism, they hinder the path to development and peace.”

After announcing the rearrangement of Chaldean dioceses and the possibility of one being created in Europe, Sako also said he does not intend to wear the Shash (a traditional Chaldean headdress) which was once worn by the entire Chaldean clergy: “To me it is a dated tradition that is linked to local folklore. I want to be simple and direct and avoid creating barriers with others. Even ways of dressing can form barriers to some extent. So no Shash but possibly something simpler.”