Rome (AsiaNews) - "We shall do everything possible for the good of the Iraqi Church and the country," said Mgr Louis Sako, archbishop of Kirkuk and new patriarch of the Iraqi Chaldean Church. The prelate was elected last night after four days of "intense" work, according to the new patriarch himself. He succeeds His Beatitude Emmanuel Delly III, who resigned because of age.
Card Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, chaired the "mini" conclave that began last Monday in the House of Spiritual Exercises of Saints John and Paul on the Caelian Hill (Rome). Fifteen Chaldean bishops took part in the process, seven from Iraq, two from Iran, two from the United States and one from Lebanon, Syria, Australia and Canada.
A "very difficult journey" lies ahead, the new patriarch said, which "will require so many sacrifices, but also a lot of hope" as well as the help of "the holy spirit and prayers."
For the sake "of Christians and Iraq, he will do everything, he said. "Together with the bishops and the Chaldean Church, we shall work together for unity and renewal. We shall do all this together to rebuild the Chaldean Church, which has suffered a lot in the last ten years."
"Authenticity and openness," the archbishop of Kirkuk said, "are essential elements to strengthen harmonious coexistence" and promote the "liturgical and youth pastoral reforms" needed to rebuild Iraq's Christian community. "Thanks to God, all the bishops have pledged their cooperation," he said. "This gives me great strength because I will depend a lot on a unity."
Seeing Christians come back to Iraq is one the new patriarch's hopes. For this reason, "we must prepare the ground for their return, in the north as well as in Baghdad."
In concluding, "We shall do all in our power for the sake of Church and the nation," Mgr Sako said. "We are a small group but we want to be a beacon of hope for everybody."
Born on 4 July 1948 in Zakho, northern Iraq, Mgr Louis Sako was ordained priest on 1 June 1974.
On several occasions, the archbishop of Kirkuk 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 a long interview with AsiaNews, he talked in depth about the current situation in Iraq and the local Church, noting that the new patriarch must be someone "who unites and does not divide".
In addition, he must be a man "who is open and ecumenical; someone who knows how to engage in dialogue, courageous and capable of doing the right thing, like liturgical, pastoral and spiritual reforms to train the clergy."
Last but not least, Mgr Sako also made several pleas for peace and dialogue, personally sponsoring interfaith meetings and moments of dialogue with the country's highest Sunni and Shia clerical leaders.