Friday, May 2, 2014

"We are a ruined church": Patriarch Sako talks about Christianity in Iraq

Migration of Christians: Percussion of the Alarm Bells is a very sad commentary by Louis Raphaël I Sako, Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, on the situation of Christians in Iraq.

Patriarch Sako blames the American invasion of Iraq for the demise of the Church in his country. "We are a ruined church", he said. "1400 years of Islam could not uproot us from our land and our churches, while the policies of the West [have] scattered us and distributed us all around the world."

The Chaldean Catholic Church is an Eastern Syriac particular church of the Catholic Church, maintaining full communion with the Bishop of Rome and the rest of the Catholic Church. Founded in the earliest days of Christianity (1st to 3rd centuries A.D.), it was originally a part of The Assyrian Church of the East, until in the 16th century Shimun VIII Yohannan Sulaqa entered communion with the Roman Catholic Church. It was renamed as the Chaldean Catholic Church by Rome in 1683.

The Chaldean Catholic Church presently comprises an estimated 500,000 believers, mostly ethnic Assyrians indigenous to northern Iraq, and areas bordering it in southeast Turkey, northeast Syria and northwest Iran. This is a troubled area, coinciding geographically with large parts of what is called "Kurdistan", where the Muslim majority are struggling to carve their own state out of parts of Iraq, Turkey and Syria. In central and south Iraq, fighting between Sunni and Shia Muslims goes on as usual, in spite of -- or because of -- the failure of the American "intervention".

According to Patriarch Sako, the West would have been better off leaving the local peoples to sort out their differences on their own. "Democracy and change come through upbringing and education rather than through conflict," he said. "Intervention by the West in the region did not solve the problems...but on the contrary, produced more chaos and conflict."

Referring to the régime of Saddam Hussein, the patriarch said that "in the Church of the Ascension, Al-Mashtal, for example, there were about 5000 families and over 240 students preparing for their First Holy Communion before the régime’s fall.... On 25 April 2014, I celebrated in this church the Holy Mass for First Holy Communion of 13 students only."

"[Iraqi] government authorities bear part of the responsibility of this migration for failing to restore security and stability," Patriarch Sako continued. He called upon Muslim clerics to issue "a joint statement denying all forms of violence, mistrust and considering others as 'infidels'" and calling "for peace and brotherhood among the people."

For all the goodwill exhibited by Patriarch Sako, Walt thinks the likelihood of any such statement coming out of Iraq is about the same as that of Pope Francis admitting that "we are a ruined church" applies in the larger sense to the Roman Catholic Church as a whole.

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