ROME — A Syrian bishop is happy with the election of Archbishop Louis Sako as Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church because he believes his experience at building dialogue in Iraq could save the lives of many Christians.
Archbishop Sako of Kirkuk was selected Feb. 1 by his fellow Chaldean Catholic bishops as the new Patriarch of Babylon, replacing Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly.
“He is young and involved in conversations with Muslims so we hope we can achieve this in Syria, too,” said Bishop Antoine Audo, the head of the Diocese of Aleppo in northern Syria.
“We’ve lost security everywhere, especially in Aleppo. The situation in the whole country is very bad,” he added in a Feb. 1 phone interview with CNA.
“He knows the situation very well because he was the archbishop of the Iraqi town of Kirkuk for 10 years,” Bishop Audo explained.
“But here we will be in communion not just with Muslims, but with all other Christian denominations and everyone around us,” said the 67-year-old.
Patriarch Sako told Vatican Radio that Kirkuk does not have any problems with Muslims, and in several mosques imams speak well of Christians for their role in bridging the divide.
But the new patriarch said he was reluctant to accept his new role, even though he is ready to offer his life for the Church.
“I hesitated and was afraid because the future is not clear … but I am ready to serve and to give myself up for the benefit of our Church and of Iraq,” he told Vatican Radio.
“Support our religious freedom. There is no one religion of the state and others of a second category but all should be at the same level,” said Patriarch Sako.
Syrian Christians Targeted
His appointment brings hope to Christians in Syria, who have been targeted by radical Islamists since conflict broke out in March 2011.
“I think his appointment is great because he has worked very hard in the town of Kirkuk for there to be mutual respect between Muslims and Christians, so he knows how to do it,” Bishop Audo remarked.
“We have a lot of poverty everywhere, we have very elementary food, and I am the president of Caritas in Syria so I have to face this,” said Bishop Audo.
Around 60,000 people have been killed and two million internally displaced since the war began.
Many now refuse to cross to neighboring Jordan after hearing horror stories of other refugees.
“We fear that we will be like Christian Iraqis, but what can I do?” said Bishop Audo.
“We do all we can to stay and to help our people, but it is beyond our control,” he added.