News Analysis

Iraq: A bishop in Babylon

Community organiser (CNS)

Few prelates have as much to worry about as Cardinal-designate Louis Sako

The Patriarch of Babylon, Louis Raphael Sako, will come to Rome on June 25 to be made a cardinal. His title evokes the ancient past but the problems faced by Sako are very contemporary ones, for he is spiritual leader of Iraq’s Catholics. Genocidal violence from ISIS, a community mostly hoping to emigrate, a sectarian government, a corrupt and ineffective state: few cardinals have so much to worry about.

In addition to all their external problems, Christians in Iraq are divided. Most are in communion with Rome and are called Chaldeans. But two other patriarchs lead communities called Assyrians, which together number more than 200,000 people and have so far rejected the uniate status that Rome can offer. A few years ago.

Patriarch Sako, seeing that one of these churches was temporarily headless, proposed that he and the other extant patriarch should both resign, and that the united churches should jointly choose a replacement who would unify and lead them all. The proposal was not accepted, but it sheds light on Sako’s character.

“He is a man of unity,” Amal Marogy tells me. Iraqi herself, she runs a charity called Aradin which supports Christian communities in Iraq. “He is doing what a Christian should do, which is making peace between Christian communities, and promoting the Christian communities in a way that earns the respect of Muslims.”

Patriarch Sako’s most recent pastoral letter is again on this issue of unity. Lamenting the poor performance of Christians in Iraq’s recent elections, he calls on his community to form one political party, and cooperate with the Assyrians and other Christian groups to secure better political representation for Christians overall.

Some Assyrians say that all this talk of Chaldeans and Assyrians is itself divisive, and that they are all one people who should demand an independent homeland. Such knotty political problems; and such a hard, brutal world. Cardinal Sako, after a glorious moment in Rome, will return to his Baghdad cathedral – dedicated to Mary, Mother of Sorrows.