Cardinal Sako speaks out from his temporary headquarters in Erbil after the falling out with Iraq’s president. The Christian community feels threatened in its “very existence”. A “new horizon” is needed through the synodal path. The cardinal will be in Marseille for Mass with Pope Francis.
The Synod, Pope Francis, and the Roman dicasteries “should pay particular attention to the Oriental Churches, cradle of Christianity”, who “feel their very existence threatened,” said Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, patriarch of Baghdad of the Chaldeans, in a text published on the website of the Chaldean patriarchate.
In the letter, the prelate highlights the current crisis in the Iraqi Church ahead of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, scheduled for 4-29 October 2023 in the Vatican.
“I hope that the Church will play a prophetic and vital role in the creation of a more human, peaceful, just and dignified world,” he writes in the letter from Erbil.
He is in the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, “far from the Baghdad see”, for the well-known events that recently saw him opposed to Iraq’s head of state and a fringe of self-styled Christian militiamen who have long sought to oust him.
Patriarch Sako hopes to see “a true renewal” of the life of the Church, its activity and objectives, with the “active” participation of the faithful and the “collegial” participation of the ecclesiastical hierarchy.
“The hopes of the Christian faithful await a new horizon opened by the synodal path,” he notes, “strengthened by theological, administrative and pastoral cohesion in perfect harmony with the essential mission of the Church and the synodal spirit.”
In mid-July, Cardinal Sako moved temporarily the patriarchal seat from the Iraqi capital to Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, after Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid revoked the decree recognising his role and authority.
The surprising decision goes against a centuries-old tradition upholding the authority of the highest official in Iraq’s Catholic Church, who is also responsible for Church assets.
This is the crux of the matter, namely control over assets targeted by a self-styled Christian leader, “Rayan the Chaldean”, and pro-Iranian militias who back him (including Shiites, Christians, and Sunnis, among others), who threaten the country’s peace and coexistence.
In response to the attacks, the cardinal moved the patriarchal seat to Erbil and did not rule out a boycott of the upcoming elections.
Sako, who will be in Marseille on 23 September for the Mass with Pope Francis at the meeting on the Mediterranean in the presence of at least 60,000 people, hopes it will be a moment to “walk together”.
“At a time of instability, difficulties in today’s culture, in particular by the predominance of secular liberalism,” the Church and the pope must start a “process of self-renewal.” However, “the bases of the faith and basic morals must be faithfully preserved,” he insists.
“It is necessary to distinguish what is real and express the spirit that cannot be abandoned, and what is immediate and practical linked to the conditions of time and space, which must be updated,” he explains.
“The Synod should give priority to the proclamation (of the Gospel) in the light of the signs of the times,” so that “the Church can present the faith to everyone with clarity, understandable language, different styles, and new forms.”
Lastly, the question of the liturgy in the celebration of the sacraments and greater participation must be addressed. The goal is “to make some structures more efficient and less bureaucratic, so that Christians feel at home, have their role to play, and do not feel marginalized.”