New Chaldean patriarch enthroned in Iraq

March 6, 2013 - 8:30 AM
Mideast Iraq Patriarch

Priests bless Louis Sako, 64, the new patriarch of Iraq's Chaldean Catholic Church at St. Joseph's Church in central Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, March 6, 2013. Iraq's Chaldean Catholic Church enthroned a new patriarch during a ceremonial mass Wednesday that was held amid tight security in Baghdad. (AP Photo/ Karim Kadim)

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's Chaldean Catholic Church enthroned a new patriarch during a ceremonial mass Wednesday that was held amid tight security in Baghdad.

The mass at St. Joseph's Chaldean church in downtown Baghdad marked the final step as Louis Sako, 64, replaced Emmanuel III Delly, who has retired.

Iraqi troops sealed off all roads leading to the church in the middle-class neighborhood of Karradah and worshippers were searched by security forces before going in.

Last month, bishops of the Eastern rite church chose Sako, archbishop of Kirkuk since 2003, as their patriarch and later, Pope Benedict XVI approved the election.

Sako was ordained in 1974, earned two doctorates in Rome and Paris in the 1980s and then returned to Iraq. He has written books on church fathers. He speaks Arabic, Chaldean, French, English and Italian.

Since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, Iraqi Christians have suffered repeated violence by Islamic militants and hundreds of thousands have fled the country.

The most recent Iraq census in 1978 said there were 1.4 million Christians in the country, but the number dropped significantly to only several hundred thousand following the invasion. The vast majority of Iraqi Catholics are Chaldean with a small Assyrian Catholic minority.

During Wednesday's ceremony, Sako said he will push for dialogue with Muslim clerics, both Sunnis and Shiites, to ensure co-existence and cooperation in Iraq.

"I will work along with my Muslim brothers in order to provide our country with a better future," he said.

Senior Iraq officials, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Sunni parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi attended the ceremony.

Al-Maliki reiterated calls for Christians who are still living in Iraq not to leave the country and be part of the efforts to build the new Iraq. He accused al-Qaida for being behind the attacks that targeted the Christians over the past ten years.

"I urge my Christian brothers not to emigrate from the country," he said. "We are saddened to see Christians leave because of the threats from a depraved group."