On international solidarity with the Chaldean Patriarch

Submitted by munir on Tue, 07/25/2023 - 12:42

Patriarch Cardinal Louis Sako has carried out his decision to move his place of residence from Baghdad to Erbil. This voluntary departure constitutes a precedent in the era of the Chaldean Church whose roots in dear Iraq date back to the first Christian centuries. It never happened that a patriarch leaves the Seat of the Patriarchate in Baghdad except during the era of the Mongols in the 15th century, especially during the rule of Tamerlane who separated the dioceses from their spiritual leadership.


We view this situation with sadness and sorrow. Ten years ago or a little fewer than that, hordes of the terrorist organization, namely Daesh--which was referred to as the Islamic State (ISIS)--attacked Iraq especially Mosul and the entire Plain of Nineveh at the time when dear Jordan decided to refer to it as the terrorist “gang” of ISIS. No state can be launched while being based on religion and while adopting a policy of violence, killing, and forcible displacement. In the melee, thousands of Christians living in Mosul and the towns of the Nineveh Plain became homeless. A large number of them came to Jordan, while some of them are still living here serving as witnesses of the harshness of the days they experienced in their country on the one hand and Jordan's welcoming of all the motley people on the other.


 After this painful decade, and in the aftermath of the gang's demise once and for all, a process  was initiated to restore the cohesion of fraternal Iraq. Among the signs of religious openness was the historic visit of Pope Francis in March 2021,  which was the first ever by a pontiff. Over the course of  four days, His Holiness the Pope addressed speeches reflecting  affection and encounter, while calling on the Iraqi people to adhere to their roots of faith and to show further unity, because religion unites people rather than divides them.


However, the past few days brought disturbing news represented by  revoking presidential decree number 147 of 2013 relevant to the legal responsibility of Patriarch Sako over the Chaldean endowments, after Pope Francis approved the decision undertaken by the bishops of the Chaldean Church to elect him as patriarch in 2013. However, the decree was withdrawn and cancelled under the pretext of its illegality and its incompatibility with the constitution, according to official statements.


 The Vatican, in its capacity as the head of the Catholic Church to which the Chaldean Patriarchate belongs, expressed through its nunciature in Baghdad its regret for the misunderstanding and the inappropriate handling regarding the role of the patriarch as custodian of the properties of the Chaldean Church, as well as with reference to some biased and misleading reports on this issue, which often ignore him as a highly esteemed religious figure. The Vatican also stressed that the administration of church property, as stipulated in the Iraqi constitution, should continue freely and practically by heads of churches, namely before Iraqi courts and governmental departments.


Cardinal-designate Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa has issued a statement of solidarity from Jerusalem during which he affirmed that the regrettable situation that the Chaldean Church is going through in Iraq is “unjustifiable and unacceptable.” He personally and on behalf of the Churches of Jerusalem expressed solidarity and prayer. He said, "Your Beatitude, the Patriarch,  you are not alone. Your Church is not alone. We wish you a speedy and auspicious return in peace to Baghdad." This  view was  reiterated by Patriarch Cardinal Bechara Al-Rai, who had issued a strongly worded statement from his summer residence in Domain for his brother, the Iraqi Patriarch.


There have been successive international reactions from civil authorities, the most important of which is by the US State Department as well as by Christian and Islamic religious leaders that denounced this act which would regrettably prompt the remaining indigenous Christians in brotherly Iraq to leave this country. Before 2003, the Iraqi Christians numbered more than one-and-a-half million people. After twenty years, we find them nowadays numbering something fewer than 150,000. Doesn't this lustrous and sublime presence deserve a compatible Arab and international attention?


We plead with the Most High to inspire the wise of this era to mediate with the Iraqi presidency in order to reverse its decree so that Baghdad would not be branded as a country that expels its people and so that what has taken place with regards to His Beatitude the Patriarch would not serve as a pressure forcing the Christians of Iraq to leave. Lord Jesus Christ said: “For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?" May God protect brotherly Iraq, and preserve its national unity.

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By Fr. Dr. Rif'at Bader