Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako of Baghdad Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako of Baghdad 

Cardinal Sako warns Christians in Iraq risk disappearing

At the opening of the annual Synod of the Chaldean Church in Baghdad, Patriarch Raphael Louis Sako once again raises the alarm on the risk of Christians disappearing from Iraq as they continue to face hardships and discrimination.

By Lisa Zengarini

The Patriarch of Baghdad of the Chaldeans, Cardinal Raphael Louis Sako, has warned that Christians in Iraq and in the entire region are heading towards disappearance unless there is a "change" in the way of thinking in governmental, social and economic policies.

He made these remarks at the opening of the Synod of the Chaldean Church taking place in the Iraqi capital from 21-27 August.  

“Iraqi Christians, and perhaps also Christians of other nations, will soon disappear if there is no change in thinking and of the state system.”

Second-class citizens

In his introductory address, the head of the Chaldean Church noted that the Islamic heritage In Iraq still “makes Christians second-class citizens and allows the usurpation of their property”.

He therefore reiterated the urgent need to change the present Constitution and law in order to “build a democratic system based on citizenship”, and not on religious and ethnic affiliation.

“In these difficult times, our mission is to collaborate with our fellow citizens to create an environment conducive to the respect of diversity and the right to full citizenship, as Pope Francis said during his visit to our country from 5-8 May 2021, helping our people to open up to hope and arming their faith and solidarity, so they can address the present challenges with the same courage Christ had.”

Chaldean Bishops' appeal for reforms

The same call for reforms was addressed on the opening day of the Synod by the body of the Chaldean bishops.

In a joint appeal, the prelates urged Iraqi political leaders to put aside personal and partisan interests so as to speed up the formation of a new government addressing the widespread corruption and the ongoing economic crisis in the country.

Politicians in Iraq have been deadlocked over forming a new government since the elections in October last year. In recent weeks, the standoff has caused renewed unrest and is already taking a toll on the most vulnerable in the context of ongoing international tensions.

Authority in the Church and ecclesial responsibility

In his opening speech at the Synod, Cardinal Sako also addressed other issues which are being discussed during the meeting, including ecclesial responsibilitity and authority in the Church, priestly and religious vocations and liturgy.   

With regards to ecclesial responsibility and authority, the Patriarch reminded the Chaldean bishops that responsibility must always be carried out “in the spirit of Christ” and that the “strength of the Church” lies in service to others, and, therefore Church leaderhip should never lead to despotism.

“Our authority is based on being apostles, through collegiality, which extends to all members of the People of God (the Church), priests, relgous men and, lay people, irrespective of gender and social class, united in the work of the Church, even if the responsibility for decisions falls on our shoulders.”

The head of the Chaldean Church further underscored the importance for bishops to accompany their priests in a “paternal” and not “authoritarian” fashion, so as to prevent divisions which are the “greatest danger” to the unity of their dioceses and to priestly witness.

Prioritizing vocations

The Patriarch also urged the Chaldean bishops to give priestly and religious vocations the highest priority, as the future of the Church depends on them.

The reform of the Chaldean liturgy

Finally, Cardinal Sako addressed the issue of liturgy, namely the recent changes introduced in the Chaldean Missal which have met some opposition especially from the diaspora.

In this regard, the Patriarch reiterated  that the ratio of the reformis to adapt more closely to the needs of the faithful. “The celebrating priest," he said, "must understand that the rites are prayer, not just a rigid and monotonous practice; this means that, he who prays must live the ritual.”

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24 August 2022, 15:08