Bishops support Patriarch Sako after his decision to withdraw to Iraqi Kurdistan

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The Chair of the International Affairs department of the Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Declan Lang, has written to Cardinal Louis Raphaël Sako, Iraq’s Chaldean Patriarch, after his decision to “retire from the Patriarchal See in Baghdad and move to a church, a mission, in one of the monasteries of Iraqi Kurdistan.”

The announcement was made in Arabic a month ago, on 15 July, following the decision by Iraq’s president, Abdul Latif Rashid, to revoke a 2013 decree recognising the Cardinal as Patriarch of the Chaldean Church. The original degree was established by the previous head of state, Jalal Talabani.

Assuring Patriarch Sako of his prayers, and those of the President of the Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Bishop Lang wrote:

“Our friendship with the Church in Iraq is a source of great joy and inspiration for many Catholics throughout England and Wales. I am pleased that several Bishops from our department have been able to visit Iraq in recent years to reaffirm this fraternity. Your own pastoral visit to the UK earlier this year has also deepened bonds between the Church in our countries.

“The resilience that Iraq’s Christians have shown in the face of so many adversities is a true witness to the Gospel. We remain united with you in prayer and solidarity.”

Cardinal Michael Fitzgerald, retired president of what was then called the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, wrote to Patriarch Sako to express his sympathy and support, upholding the Patriarch’s right to exercise his ministry from the capital, Baghdad:

“Please accept my expression of sympathy and support,” he wrote. “I hope that the matter will be resolved, and that the patriarchate will still remain in Baghdad, and that you will be recognised as the legal representative of the Patriarchate.”

Patriarch Sako was in the UK as recently as June, for a visit organised by Fellowship and Aid to Christians of the East (FACE). He met with church leaders, politicians and led Mass for the Chaldean community. Visiting Birmingham, he met with Archbishop Bernard Longley who has expressed his support in these challenging times.

“I recall with gratitude the memory of your recent visit to Birmingham and the time that you graciously spent at the Oratory with its shrine of St John Henry Newman and at St Mary’s College, Oscott with the staff and seminarians,” wrote Archbishop Longley.

“I am very grateful for your visit and for the opportunity that you gave us to grow in appreciation of the Chaldean Church. I therefore wanted to assure you of my prayers at this very difficult time and share with you my hope that the affairs of the Chaldean Church will soon be restored to their original standing and that Your Beatitude will be able to return to your rightful place in the Patriarchate of Baghdad.”

In England and Wales, we continue to pray for Patriarch Sako and the Christians of Iraq.