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Iraqi cardinal calls on Christians to unite, end sectarianism

Some parties have eliminated 'national affiliation' and 'hurtfully' divided people along ethnic and religious lines, says Sako
Cardinal Louis Sako, the head of Iraq's Chaldean Catholic Church, addresses a press conference at Baghdad's St. Joseph church on March 3, 2021.

Cardinal Louis Sako, the head of Iraq's Chaldean Catholic Church, addresses a press conference at Baghdad's St. Joseph church on March 3, 2021. (Photo: AFP)

Published: February 21, 2024 10:25 AM GMT
Updated: February 21, 2024 10:35 AM GMT

Iraqi Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako has issued a letter to the nation’s Christians calling for unity and warning them against sectarianism that divides the community and endangers their existence, says a report.

The ongoing “political and componential divisions” in the nation are condemnable as they affect and divide minority Christians, the 75-year-old Baghdad-based patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church said in a pastoral letter, Fides news agency reported on Feb. 20.

The letter, titled “Unity, then unity: Every household divided against itself will be ruined,” was published on Feb. 17.

Sako’s letter also highlights the precarious political situation and conflict in the Middle East that has been taking a toll on all communities including Christians.

“Currently, the situation of the Middle East is terrible due to the political and componential divisions, which has brought nothing but evil,” Sako said.

Sako criticized the international, regional “bodies” with financial clouts for harboring extremist ideologies and loyalties “working to divide Iraqis, based on sectarian components.”

Those vested groups have been successful in eliminating “national affiliation” and dividing Iraqis based on religious and ethnic lines such as Sunni, Kurdish, and even Christians, which was hurtful, Sako said.

“This situation created ongoing crises, in addition to the spread of “epidemic” of corruption by stealing public money,” Sako added.

Sako was made a cardinal by Pope Francis in 2018, about three years before Francis became the first pope to visit Iraq in 2021.

In July 2023, Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid revoked a decree that formally recognized Sako as the Chaldean patriarch in the country.

Sako had alleged that the successive Iraqi governments had “failed to protect Iraq’s sovereignty; its resources; and to preserve the rights of its people [based on] full citizenship.”

Christians are paying a “high” price and have been forced to emigrate due to these divisions, Sako said.

He also pointed out that well-known parties who had concealed the facts “for ulterior motives,” had “seduced some Church leaders with money and privileges [to] control their capabilities and [dominate] their properties.”

Sako did not name any group or entities that he alleged of foul play and separatism in his letter.

Sako recalled his visit to the Chaldean community in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands where he witnessed “a painful way of divisions.”

The divisions ranged from Chaldeans to Chaldo -Assyrians, or Assyrians, and Chaldo – Syriac – Assyrian, Sako said.

“Moreover, there is also a group who wants to establish a new party or a new “body” with false claims, in addition to those who plan to hold a ‘Chaldean Conference,’” Sako said.

Such actions were “certainly not for the benefit of Chaldeans, as they claim,” Sako lamented.

Sako urged Chaldean Catholics to work towards unity by rallying around their identity and their Church and to communicate among themselves and with others honestly and positively.

“Unity occurs through serious dialogues, negotiations, and understandings, rather than through shameful divisions stemming from selfish interests, [narcissism], and using deceptive slogans,” Sako said.

Sako said that he supports the unity of Churches, the unity of Chaldeans, Syriacs, and Assyrians, with sincere intention, through recognition and respect of others.

He also voiced his support for comprehensive dialogue away from division and dispersion, adding that “unity can be achieved by strong persons and not [opportunists].”

Chaldeans around the world must understand that they are “nothing but a project of splitting” financed by certain entities, Sako warned.

He noted that the weakened situation of the “Assyrian Democratic Movement,” due to their tribal and rural affiliations and divisions had even affected the Chaldean Church.

“We hope that the two Churches will unite as soon as possible,” Sako said.

The majority of Iraq's Christians belong to the Chaldean Catholic Church, according to church sources.

Before the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, the consequent war, and rise of the Islamic State extremist group, Iraq had 1.5 million Christians. The conflict and persecution forced tens of thousands to flee to other countries since then.

As of 2022 Christians in Iraq dropped to 150,000, according to the US Department of State’s International Religious Freedom.

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