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Cardinal Louis Raphaël Sako said Iraqi Christians could now feel “the joy of rebirth” for the Church (Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales/Mazur)

The head of the Chaldean Catholic Church celebrated Mass in Baghdad on Friday for the first time in nine months, following a period of self-imposed exile from the Iraqi capital. Source: The Tablet.

Cardinal Louis Raphaël Sako, the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, returned to Baghdad on Wednesday, where he was received by a representative of prime minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani before travelling to the patriarchate headquarters.

He has not been resident there since last July, when he announced that he would not return to Baghdad following a dispute over the government’s recognition of his authority.

The patriarchate reported that Cardinal Sako had returned on “a personal invitation” from the prime minister, whom he met on April 11. They discussed “the general conditions in Iraq and the prevailing atmosphere of stability throughout the country”, according to a statement from the prime minister’s office.

The statement said the talks “helped the government to continue implementing the priorities of its programs” and that Mr Al Sudani emphasised “the government’s eagerness to consolidate the principle of co-existence and brotherhood across the spectrum of Iraqi society” – including “the historical role of the Iraqi Christian component”.

Most of Iraq’s Christian population belongs to the Chaldean Church, one of the 23 sui iuris Eastern Churches in full communion with Rome. However, the Christian population has declined dramatically in the past two decades, from 1.5 million at the time of the US-led invasion in 2003 to an estimated 200,000 today.

Speaking in Baghdad on Friday, Cardinal Sako said he had endured “suffering, pain and anxiety” during his absence. “Nine months of suffering, somewhat resembling the condition of a pregnant woman enduring in hope of having a child,” he said.

Pursuing this theme in his homily at Mass in the Cathedral of St Joseph the same day, he said Iraqi Christians could now feel “the joy of rebirth” for the Church. He also encouraged them to support the government, emphasising the importance of unity.


Sako returns to Baghdad after ‘painful’ nine-month exile (By Patrick Hudson, The Tablet)