Christians, Muslims celebrate return of Cardinal Louis Sako to Baghdad

The return of Cardinal Sako to Baghdad was not only celebrated by Christians but also saw participation from members of the Muslim community, highlighting the importance of religious tolerance and coexistence in Iraq.
Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako (Photo: Chaldean Patriarchate)
Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako (Photo: Chaldean Patriarchate)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) — In a significant development for Iraq's Christian community, Cardinal Louis Sako has returned to Baghdad after a nine-month self-imposed exile in the Kurdistan Region. Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani issued the order for his return, marking a crucial step towards reconciliation and religious unity in the country.

The cardinal, a prominent figure in the Iraqi Christian community, was warmly welcomed back to Baghdad as he led his first mass in the capital city. His return comes after a period of political dispute and concerns for his safety, which led to his departure from Baghdad last year.

"To be honest, their excuse was not a legitimate excuse to issue a decree, but thank God the Prime Minister understands the situation and has promised to solve the problem," Cardinal Louis Sako remarked, expressing gratitude for the support he received during his exile.

Read More: Chaldean patriarch returns to Baghdad after nine months of self-imposed exile amid political dispute

The return of Cardinal Sako to Baghdad was not only celebrated by Christians but also saw participation from members of the Muslim community, highlighting the importance of religious tolerance and coexistence in Iraq.

"The removal of Cardinal Louis Sako from Baghdad was an injustice to him because the truth is that we Iraqis are multi-religious, multi-ethnic, and multi-sectarian. We don't want any discrimination between them. We don't want anything that separates the communities," said Rana Ahmad, a Muslim resident of Baghdad, emphasizing the unity among different religious groups in the country.

Calls for the protection of religious figures and the prevention of political interference in religious affairs echoed throughout Baghdad as Cardinal Sako resumed his duties. Iraqi citizens, both Christian and Muslim alike, emphasized the importance of safeguarding religious symbols for the country's development and stability.

Presidential Decree No. 31 was published in the Iraqi Gazette No. 4727 on Sunday (July 3, 2023) announcing the withdrawal of Decree No. 147 of 2013; according to the decree, the rank of Patriarch of the Chaldean Church in Iraq and the world was taken away from Cardinal Luis Sako.

Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rasheed in July revoked a 2013 presidential decree, which had recognized Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako as the head of the Chaldean Catholic Church and custodian of the church's assets, saying the earlier decision was not “legally based.”

The new decision has drawn widespread condemnations from Christians in Iraq and abroad, fearing the revocation is part of the long-standing campaign against the dwindling community.

Read More: U.S. Slams Baghdad for Mistreatment of Catholic Leader; Welcomed in the Kurdistan Region

Despite Cardinal Sako's efforts to challenge the decree in court, the Federal Supreme Court ruled against him, further highlighting the complex political landscape surrounding religious leaders in Iraq.

At the heart of the dispute lie tensions between Cardinal Sako and Rayan al-Kildani, head of the Babylon Movement political party and founder of the Babylon Brigades militia. Allegations of property disputes and power struggles have fueled animosity between the two figures, reflecting broader challenges within Iraq's religious and political spheres.

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As Cardinal Louis Sako resumes his role as Patriarch of the Chaldean Church in Iraq and the world, his return symbolizes a step towards religious harmony and unity in Iraq. However, challenges remain, and the protection of religious freedoms and leaders will continue to be a priority for the nation's stability and progress.

The patriarch said he would return to Erbil to settle some logistical matters before returning permanently to Baghdad.

Al-Sudani’s office said in a statement that in a meeting with Sako upon his return Thursday, he had expressed “the importance of his presence and role, stressing the government’s keenness to consolidate the principle of coexistence and brotherhood across the spectrum of Iraqi society.”