In a pastoral letter marking the third anniversary of his election, the Chaldean patriarch and primate of the Iraqi Church stresses achievements and outlines future challenges. In the Year of mercy, the latter include the need to forgive and be forgiven, and strong Christian political leaders to defend the rights of Iraq’s Christian community.
Baghdad (AsiaNews) – On the anniversary of his election as Patriarch of Babylon for the Chaldeans on 31 January 2013, Louis Raphael Sako Mar I released a pastoral letter laying out what the Iraqi Church has achieved in the past three years.
The main results include the ordination of six new bishops, and the reform of the Chaldean liturgy with respect to Mass, baptism, and marriage. This has meant preserving the Church’s “Eastern originality” whilst eliminating “all strange traditions that are not in line with what the Bible teaches”.
At the same time, new laws were adopted “to achieve justice among members of Clergy” with the stress “on spirituality, willingness to serve, and unity inside the church”. Likewise, the role played by the Patriarchate in Iraq” was enhanced and strengthened.
Born on 4 July 1948 in Zakho, northern Iraq, Mgr Louis Sako was ordained priest on 1 June 1974. On several occasions, as archbishop of Kirkuk, he denounced the exodus of Christians, whose numbers have been more than halved, appealing to Church officials and local political leaders as well as the international community to ensure that Christians have a future in their native land.
In recognition for his work, the prelate received the Defensor Fidei award in 2008; two years later, he was given the Pax Christi international award.
In his message, sent to AsiaNews, the patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Iraq thanks “God for everything", for "the difficulties and challenges we faced," as well as "the agony that came along with it". All “these struggles did not kill us” and “did not take away our hope”.
In his pastoral letter, Mar Sako writes that “the Church has named this year as a ‘Year of Mercy’ and I have to be the first one to live and practice mercy.”
Thus, he would “like to take this occasion to ask everyone who felt that I hurt him/her to accept my apology, although there should be no confusion between administration and personal relationships.”
The reference is to the contrasts, partly resolved, with the clergy of the Chaldean diaspora, in particular a diocese in the United States.
“I utterly realize that my cross is heavy, but I have to carry it with faith, confidence and happiness to serve my Chaldean Church, all Christians in Iraq, and my country as a whole.”
With the help of people of “good will, I promise to do my best in; protecting our identity [. . .] supporting peace”, as well as promoting the language of “dialogue and coexistence”.
Mar Sako hopes that his work for the Church and the faithful is “anchored on a solid humanitarian and evangelical base”, although it hurts him “to see [how] our beloved country has been torn apart with thousands of wounded and murdered innocent people, millions of displaced and the horrific demolition everywhere.”
In view of this, “It is time to renew our commitment to the land and to each other as members of the ONE Iraqi family, in spite of our differences.”
In light of the mostly political divisions that affect Christians, and neutralise their efforts, Patriarch Sako noted that “unity is a special spiritual, humanitarian, social, and political power.” for this, “We need actions not speeches and promises”, such as the creation of “a ‘Unified Christian Ecumenical Gathering’ to act as a political reference for Christians,” starting with the next elections.
Lastly, he pointed out that as “Lent is at hand”, everyone should engage in “fasting and prayers”.