(Vatican Radio) In an exclusive interview withVatican Radio, His Beatitude Louis Raphael Sako I reveals his hesitation upon being elected Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, but also his readiness to serve and to give himself up “for the benefit of our Church and of Iraq”.
The former Archbishop of Kirkuk was elected Patriarch of one of the oldest churches in the world Thursday night by his fellow bishops. The vote came after four days of “intense” work at the Synod convoked to Rome by Pope Benedict XVI to elect the successor to His Beatitude Emmanuel III Delly.
The 64 year-old leader of the Church in Iraq and its wider Diaspora told Emer McCarthy his hesitation stemmed from his deep awareness of the challenges that his Church and nation face, first among these, the quest for unity.
“I hesitated and was afraid because the future is not clear. You know this charge is heavy, it is not easy knowing the challenges of our Church and country. But I am ready to serve and to give myself up for the benefit of our Church and of Iraq”.
Q: A native of Mosul, to date you were Archbishop of Kirkuk in Northern Iraq, what do you see as the greatest challenges ahead for your Church?
“For the Chaldean Church it is the unity of the bishops, the reforms of our liturgies, we should reform and update them so people can pray and understand and live out their faith. But also the security and peace in the country. There is no stability and the security is getting worse, everybody is worried. Also, for me as head of this Church, immigration is a big challenge for us”.
Q: You have been a stalwart in inter-religious dialogue, how important is this for the future of Christians in Iraq?
“I think this is the only way to get out from our barriers. With Islam there is a possibility of dialogue, when they realise that we respect them, we love them and we are open to them. They appreciate this. As maybe you heard in Kirkuk we haven’t had any problems with the Muslim community everybody respects us and in several mosques the Imams speak well of Christians and their role in bridging, in helping and I think this is a good way to witness our faith and to incarnate our charity.”
Q: How can the churches in the West, particularly the Latin Church, help Iraq’s Christians?
“Solidarity. Be close to us. We are one of the oldest churches in the world and what we need is the closeness of our sisters and our brothers, their prayers and solidarity. And if they can also, from time to time, the churches in the north or in Baghdad, in Kirkuk to show us their solidarity and save these churches. Support our religious freedom. There is no one religion of the state and others of second category but all should be at the same level”.
Born in Zakho (Iraq) July 4, 1948, Patriarch Sako completed his primary studies in Mosul, before attending the local seminary of St. John, run by the Dominican Fathers.
Ordained a priest on June 1, 1974, he undertook the pastoral service at the Cathedral of Mosul until 1979. Sent to Rome, he attended the Pontifical Oriental Institute, receiving his doctorate in Eastern Patristics. He later received his doctorate in history from the Sorbonne in Paris. On returning to Mosul in 1986, he was appointed parish priest of the Parish of Perpetual Help.
From 1997 to 2002 he held the office of Rector of the Patriarchal Seminary in Baghdad. He then returned to Mosul took over pastoral care of the Parish of Perpetual Help until the election as Archbishop of Kirkuk September 27, 2003. He received episcopal ordination on 14 November.
He has published several books on the Fathers of the Church and several articles.Apart from Arabic and Chaldean, the Patriarch speaks German, French, English and Italian.