Baghdad’s Chaldean Patriarch recalled the abuses suffered by the Christian community in Iraq: from “exclusion from work, to appropriation of resources and properties, to the systematic demographic change of their cities in the Nineveh Plains.” There are calumnies, personal attacks, threats, judicial processes and a frontal clash with the President of the Republic. Iraqi Christians see their “legitimate human and national rights violated,” all “under the eyes of the Iraqi State,” and despite “the loyalty and commitment of the Christians to their homeland.”
The Patriarch also sees a threatening future for the Church, “more subtle than that used by ISIS. He adds that “One million Christians left Iraq after the fall of the regime, after their expulsion from Mosul and the cities of the Nineveh Plains by ISIS elements in 2014; they emigrated for security, political, economic and social reasons.” Hence he highlights the uncontrolled militias that operate in the country, sectarianism, religious extremism and the widespread corruption in Iraq.
Patriarch Sako quoted statistics of the Hammurabi Organization and the Assyrian Democratic Movement, which highlight the killing of 1,200 Christians, in addition to those abducted and then killed in Mosul and Baghdad. He recalled the death of the Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul, Boulos Faraj Rahho, and the 85 churches and monasteries bombed by extremists and ISIS in Baghdad, Mosul and Basra, as well as the seizure of Christian resources by local mafias.
Cardinal Sako was appointed Patriarch of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church in January 2013. However, the President of the Republic of Iraq, Abdul Latif Rashid withdrew, in an “unjustified” way, part of the Presidential Decree that recognized him as Patriarch appointed by the Holy See and Head of the Chaldean Church “in Iraq and in the world,” as well as his being “responsible and custodian of the properties of the Church.” Rayan, leader of a local militia that calls itself Christian, although he’s in the pay of Teheran, disputes openly the legitimacy of his Patriarchate, spreading lies in order to take power over the Church in Iraq.
Cardinal Sako explains: “Essentially, it’s a plan that intends to silence the Church’s voice and that of my person. Over these years as Patriarch, I’ve always defended human rights, regardless of creed or ethnic-religious filiation; I’ve tried to protect the Christians and I never wished to justify the formation of an alleged Christian militia. I’ve rejected all this, hence the purpose of revenge by a faction that has a hidden motive: to push Christians to leave, to make them emigrate so they can seize their homes, their goods, their properties. That’s why they also want to create an unstable environment and are opposed to the idea of citizenship, which I’ve always claimed as the basis of belonging to the nation. However, a sectarian mentality prevails in the country, in which people fight to have more power, visibility and earn more money. There is no will to build a State based on law and justice, instead, confusion and anarchy prevail.”
Rayan the Chaldean’s complaints obliged the Patriarch not to attend the meeting of the Mediterranean Bishops in Marseille, as Rayan lodged complaints in the courts as part of the campaign against him.
In regard to the possible confusion that arises in people and institutions that live far from Iraq, the Cardinal says: “One of the basic elements is that the President of the Republic has no power to withdraw Decrees dictated in the past, he can dictate them but, of course, he cannot annul them arbitrarily. Moreover, it goes against a secular tradition that goes back to the time of the Abasi Caliphate, then the Ottoman Empire and finally the Republic. The Head of State has wished to erase in one second 14 centuries of history and tradition, but I’m not afraid and I have nothing to lose . . . Perhaps my life, but I’m prepared to do that. It’s all done to intimidate the Christians, so that they will leave the country and that’s why I encourage them again, and more forcefully, to stay and have hope.”
In early September, there was a brief circumstantial greeting to the Pope of Rayan the Chaldean at the end of the General Audience, as was described in a brief Vatican clarification. The leader of this Christian group took advantage of it to criticize Cardinal Sako, who stressed the need to receive support. “I’m disappointed by the Holy See’s position that, in almost five months, hasn’t intervened to disavow the actions of the President of the Republic, to reject the attacks against the Patriarch’s person, to distance itself from those that called themselves Christian leaders – the visit of this gentleman and the meeting with Pope Francis in Saint Peter’s Square at the end of the Wednesday Audience, which he later relaunched with great fanfare on his own social channels, seeking legitimacy, making use of an ecclesial authority, which ended up by demonstrating profound ignorance because he talked of the Wednesday’s Angelus! His words implied a real commotion for Christians and Muslims in Iraq, as he was presenting himself once again as the true representative of the Christians, and not the Patriarch, whose resignation the Pope would accept. The silence in face of these statement is inadmissible,” he stresses.
Asked about the weight of the silence that legitimizes the attacks against his person and against the whole Chaldean Church, he suggested: “The Holy See could have spoken out, could have said that this gentleman’s propaganda isn’t true, could have attempted to calm the people, the numerous Christians and Muslims of Iraq who are suffering new attacks and lies that wound, first of all, our community. The Apostolic Nuncio invites me to dialogue, not to humiliate the President . . . However, here it’s the President who is humiliating the Church and his people. He says that the Decree must be put aside and accept a court ruling. However, he must understand the local mentality and support the Church: he could deny Rayan’s instrumentalization and lies, ask the Bishops that receive money from him not to do so, find a solution that doesn’t go against the Chaldean Church.”
Given that the Synod in Rome in October is approaching, he clarifies; “Ours is a particular problem, but the Synod can be of help to find a solution. The Church must show her presence, her closeness, she must find the word that has been lacking up to now. The Church is her believers.”
It’s estimated that half a million Christians, still residents in Iraq, need support. The Patriarch says that “the Church has mobilized all her energies and has made extraordinary efforts to help and encourage the remaining Christians, but the Church isn’t a substitute of the State. Hence the question: How can the Christians and their presence in Iraq be maintained, rooted in the country for more than 2000 years? (. . . ) Statements of solidarity and promises are useless if there are no real and direct actions to halt these violations, regardless of who emits them. We believe that the solution is to treat the marginalized ethnic and religious components in keeping with the principle of equality before the law, which guarantees to every citizen the right to live his/her life in the framework of the country’s laws. It’s on the basis of the law that citizens pursue freely the economic, social and cultural development of their country,” he concludes.