WASHINGTON — Representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops joined Eastern Catholics in Iraq to witness the installation of the Chaldean Catholic Church’s new patriarch, Louis Raphael I Sako.
The new patriarch “is a man of dialogue and friendship,” said Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa.
The bishop, who chairs the Committee on International Justice and Peace for the U.S. bishops' conference, voiced confidence that Patriarch Sako “will work diligently to establish beneficial relationships with those of the Muslim tradition and other religions, as well as governmental and civic communities in Iraq.”
“It was a genuine honor to represent the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at the Patriarch’s installation,” he said.
Bishop Pates led a delegation to Iraq on March 4-6, representing the U.S. bishops at the patriarch’s installation.
He was joined by Bishop Yousif Habash of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Deliverance of Newark, N.J., for Syrian Catholics in the U.S. and Canada.
An Oriental rite of the Catholic Church, the Chaldean Church has eparchies instead of dioceses.
With approximately 700,000 members, the Chaldean Church accounts for about two-thirds of the Christians living in Iraq. Many of its members have been forced to flee to nearby countries to escape violence.
“It is estimated that nearly one-half of 350,000 individuals from the Chaldean Church have emigrated from Iraq since the invasion and occupation of the country by American military forces beginning in 2003,” said Bishop Pates.
The U.S. bishops have repeatedly asked the U.S. government to offer more humanitarian aid to Iraq and to ensure that Christians in the country are not denied the aid that they need. Bishop Pates reinforced this call for help, saying that assisting the Chaldean Church in the country is “incumbent upon us as Americans.”
This is particularly true, he explained, “because this is a land that was the beneficiary of apostolic evangelization attributed to St. Thomas the Apostle.”
The bishop explained that he was “very cordially received by the Patriarch and the members of the Chaldean Church.” He added that the “Iraqi government provided tight security for me and Bishop Habash and demonstrated commitment to protect minority religions and their practice of worship.”
He said that this commitment was further exemplified by the presence of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the speaker of the Council of Representatives, Osama al-Nujaifi, at Patriarch Sako’s installation ceremony.
“With the Chaldean Church struggling to retain members in Iraq,” said Bishop Pates, “Patriarch Sako’s leadership is providential.”