Church members should not be reduced to silence when they express themselves on issues that are crucial to the future of Iraqi society.
Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako of Babylon has backed the right of Christians to express themselves publicly ahead of Iraq’s parliamentary elections on May 12.
“The church has the right to intervene in the political arena,” Patriarch Sako wrote in a message published on the Patriarchate’s website this week.
Church members should not be reduced to silence when they express themselves on issues that are crucial to the future of Iraqi society, he said.
The first post-war election
Patriarch Sako was responding to criticisms accusing him of political interference ahead of the parliamentary elections due to be held on May 12.
He had warned earlier that several small political groups led by Christian leaders and activists, who are candidates at the elections, are in fact controlled by much more influential Kurdish or Shiite political groups.
At least nine Christian political groups are planning to contest the coming election in which 25 million Iraqis will go to the polls.
They are competing to win five seats — one in each province — that are reserved for the Christian minorities.
Patriarch Sako also condemned the use of religious symbols, including Christians symbols, for electoral purposes.
He appealed to Christian candidates to avoid claiming support from church authorities, deploring the corruption and sectarianism that are rife in Iraq.
Several Christian leaders reacted against these warnings, attacking Patriarch Sako for allegedly interfering in Iraqi politics.
Voting a ‘national and moral duty’
Nor is this the first time that Patriarch Sako has voiced criticism of certain Christian-inspired political groupings.
In January 2016, he hit out at the representatives of Iraqi political groups linked to various Christian communities, which had not “succeeded over the years in meeting the legitimate aspirations of their people.”
Instead, they had pursued the implementation of limited agendas, focusing on the protection of personal interests or those of a small group.
The patriarch has been particularly active in the lead up to the parliamentary election, which may provide an opportunity for rebuilding Iraq following the fall of ISIS.
On Sunday May 6, a short text was read in all churches in which Patriarch Sako encouraged the faithful to vote in the forthcoming election.
“The patriarchate also calls on everyone to pray that the election process will be successful and will take place in a secure and equitable manner in order to elect a strong national government that will represent all groups and work hard for the development and progress of Iraq,” the statement read.