Felix Dawood al-Shabi will lead the eparchy, today distinct from that of Amadiyah on the proposal of Patriarch Sako. A strategic area for trade with Syria and Turkey, as well as being “the heart of the Chaldean world”. He asks the faithful to “have courage and hope”; appeals to Western Catholics to “support their suffering brothers”.
Rome (AsiaNews) – Valuing Christian “identity and roots” and strengthening cultural belonging to the Church and the Chaldean community: these are the goals that Fr. Felix (Saeed) Dawood al-Shabi, recently appointed bishop of the eparchy of Zakho.
The eparchy in the future will be distinct from that of Amadiyah. “My hope – he points out to AsiaNews – is to be able to go in a month, when the flights will resume [after months of blockages and closings for the Covid-19 pandemic] and meet a people, a community that is waiting to work together with their new bishop with confidence and affection”.
Zakho, says the priest, “is located in Kurdistan, in the triangle that unites Iraq with Syria and Turkey. It is a very important area for trade, for traffic: a gateway to all Iraq. As a new bishop – he continues – I feel I am going to the heart of the Chaldean world: Zakho, in fact, is unique in the world because Aramaic and Chaldean is widely spoken there, and you don’t need to use another language. You feel immediately at home, so I feel a deep nostalgia and a great desire to start my mission there. I hope to be able to put down and strengthen the roots, in the face of a Chaldean community that is spread throughout the world”.
The Chaldean primate Card. Louis Raphael Sako, with the consent of the Synod of Bishops of the Patriarchal Church, separated the eparchy of Zakho from that of Amadiyah, to which it had been united in June 2013. This decision matured in the last meeting of August 2019, which led to the appointment, confirmed by Pope Francis, of Fr. Felix.
On June 27 the future bishop received his purple biretta (skull cap) from Card. Leonardo Sandri (pictured), Prefect of the Congregation for Easter Churches. The patriarchate has yet to communicate the date of the consecration, because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“The new diocese – explains Fr. Felix – is the result of an ecclesiastical decision, although in reality it dates back to the mid-1800s and has a great history behind it. An old, but also new diocese formed by three parishes in the city and at least 14 villages, of varying sizes, in the surrounding area. Some inhabited centers are made up of 30 families, others have up to 300 families. The total is over 8,000 Chaldean Christians in the area, added to which are Armenians and Syrian Catholics.”
The future bishop was born in Karemlesh, in the Nineveh plain (northern Iraq), on January 19, 1975. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Theology from Babel College in Baghdad and, later, his license in canon law from the Pontifical Oriental institute in Rome in 2002. He is now preparing a doctoral thesis in canon law at the Pontifical Lateran University.
His ordination as deacon dates back to January 18, 1998; on June 29 of the same year he became a priest in Baghdad by the then Patriarch Raphaël Bidawid. From 1998 to 1999 he served in Mosul as a priest in the church of St. Joseph, before moving to the United States where he worked in several parishes of the Eparchy of Saint Peter Apostle in San Diego. In 2007 he was appointed chancellor, then vicar of the bishop for the state of Arizona from 2009 to 2018.
In Zakho there are three celibate priests and another seven married priests. “It will take a lot of effort – says Fr. Felix – because Christians in the area still remain a minority and do not have many opportunities in terms of work or rights. I will try to instill courage in them, to be a brother with my brothers. It will then be essential to resume active evangelization and in this respect it is important to highlight that one of the first acts will be the priestly ordination of a seminarian. The patriarch asked precisely to wait for the new bishop to arrive to preside at the ordination, and everyone welcomed the decision with joy. This new priest will be important to strengthen pastoral work.”
Another precious contribution is offered by the Chaldean nuns, who live in a center near the cathedral and manage an educational institution that welcomes students from kindergarten to high school. “The presence of Catholic schools is fundamental – says future bishop – which represent one of the bases for strengthening the faith. But also “to enhance and strengthen the Catholic faith with respect to the Protestant movements that are gaining ground in the area, following the example of illustrious personalities of the Chaldean Church who have given their lives for the mission as Msgr. Paul Faraj Rahho or Fr. Ragheed Ganni, who was my cousin “.
Finally, Fr. Felix wants to launch two appeals to the faithful of Zakho and to the Christians of the West: “To the former, who are waiting for their bishop, I say to have courage and hope, while to the latter I ask to have courage and to support the suffering brothers in the most difficult areas of the world. As Christians, we are one body … pray for us.”
By: Dario Salvi