04/11/2024, 18.22
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Patriarch Sako ends exile, meets with the authorities in Baghdad

After months in Erbil, the cardinal is back at the patriarchal seat in the Iraqi capital. His voluntary departure was triggered by the decision of the Iraqi president to repeal a decree recognising patriarchal authority, a controversy linked to a militia led by a self-styled Christian leader eager to grab Church-held assets. On social media, Iraqi Christians (and Muslim leaders) express joy and satisfaction at the patriarch’s return.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Patriarch Card Louis Raphael Sako, primate of the Chaldean Church of Iraq, ended his self-imposed exile last night and returned to Baghdad. In July last year, he had moved temporarily to Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan.

For Iraq’s Christians, especially the Chaldean community in the capital, his return to the patriarchal see was a cause for rejoicing.

The patriarch’s sudden departure followed a  controversial decision by Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid to repeal a presidential decree issued by his predecessor that recognised the Chaldean primate’s religious and legal authority.

On 10 July 2013 the late President Jalal Talabani signed Decree 147. By recognising the patriarch’s appointment that year as head of the Chaldean Catholic Church “in Iraq and the world” and his authority as “responsible for the assets of the Church”, the head of state granted the patriarchate a form of "institutional recognition”.

The whole issue has been in fact centred on control over Church assets, a Church source told AsiaNews, especially after a self-styled Christian leader Rayan the Chaldean and his Iran-backed militia, the Babylon Brigade, set their eyes on assets and properties owned by Christians and the Church in the Nineveh Plain.

Speaking out against Rayan’s "deliberate and humiliating" campaign, the cardinal temporarily moved the patriarchal see from the capital to Erbil, an unprecedented form of protest against the decision. The matter, Card Sako said, concerns "the Chaldean Church alone”; for him, “this is the basic question”.

By repealing the decree, President Rashid undermined the patriarch’s role and authority, going against a centuries-old tradition, striking at the country’s highest Catholic authority, who is also responsible for the management of Church assets.

The power struggle started by Rayan and his militia, which includes Shias, Christians, and Sunnis, represents a threat to peace and coexistence.

Recently, the self-styled leader posted pictures and videos on social media, showing himself with Pope Francis at the end of a Wednesday general audience, to claim some moral and religious authority.

Speaking to AsiaNews last November, Card Sako called the decision to rescind the decree "moral assassination”, adding that his decision to move the patriarchal see to Erbil was a form of “extreme protest". The prelate went even further, suggesting a possible boycott of upcoming elections.

Earlier, in an interview, he had said: “I will return to Baghdad only when the cancellation of the decree is withdrawn,” noting that “Our Church has given a lot to Iraq, from the pope's visit to humanitarian aid to Muslims at the time of the Islamic State, even more than to Christians. Today, the government thanks us by punishing the patriarch and an entire community.”

The cardinal had also criticised the Vatican for its “silence”, even though the Holy See noted that it was carefully monitoring the affair, working behind the scenes to find a solution to the controversy for the good of Iraq’s Christian community.

Today came the turning point, with the patriarch’s return to Baghdad accompanied by Archbishop Thomas Meram.

Upon arrival at Baghdad International Airport, the Chaldean delegation was met by Iraqi Prime Minister at the VIP Lounge before they left for the patriarchal see in a convoy of cars.

The patriarch’s return has set the Internet abuzz, with excited comments from hundreds of Iraqi Catholics, many of whom posted their reactions on the patriarchate's social media platforms.

"You are the symbol of our Church," wrote one Yousif Awnie Khadoor; “Thank God he has returned safely to his home," added Raeed Aessa, while Manhal Alsanati expressed feelings of "pride and gratitude” to “welcome [him] home. May his return reinforce the spirit of belonging and unity.”

"We thank you for the positions you have taken and the efforts you have made for the Church and the faithful," wrote Adnan A. Mansor Koro, while Amanj Nissan noted: "God opens a door to resolve all torpid issues, and the water returns to its natural flow.”

Finally, several Iraqi political and religious leaders reacted to Card Sako’s decision to return to Baghdad.

“We are very pleased with the return" of the patriarch, wrote Ayatollah Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, on social media.

“As we welcome him, we hope that all outstanding differences will be resolved”, he added, expressing “our great pride for the Christian families" who make up the Iraqi mosaic.

(Pictures from the Chaldean Patriarchate website)

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See also
President ends recognition of Chaldean patriarch, putting Christian assets at risk
12/07/2023 21:19
Chaldean Patriarch: Synod should pay special attention to Oriental Churches
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Card Sako forced to leave Baghdad and move to Erbil
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