Easter Festivities Canceled for Christians of Iraq

Source: FSSPX News

As The Pillar reports, ”The Chaldean Catholic Church has announced the cancellation of major events and public festivities for Easter, in protest of the Iraqi government’s ongoing refusal to recognize Cardinal Louis Raphaël Sako as the legal head of the Church and the  holder of its endowments and traditional legal privileges.”   The high prelate has been living in seclusion for several months in a Kurdish monastery in northern Iraq.

Easter 2024 will not leave an unforgettable memory in the recollection of Chaldean Catholics. On March 25, members of this Eastern Church--which is the outcome of a return to unity with Rome in the 16th century--learned with astonishment that the public solemnities planned to celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord were canceled.

This is an exceptional measure taken to mark the “solidarity” of the Chaldean Church with its Patriarch, who has found himself deprived by the Iraqi head of State, Abdul Latif Rashid, of the “civil recognition” which would allow him to be “the rightful administrator of Church assets.” This decision breaks with a tradition carried on since the Abbassid caliphate of the Middle Ages.

In Iraq, the Christian minority is in chaos. Weakened by intra-community tensions, threatened from the outside, especially by the influence of Iranian Shiites--not to mention the dange of residual jihadism--impoverished by a slow erosion of its institutional power, since 2023, it has lost the only point of reference that it had in Baghdad: its Patriarch, who has voluntarily exiled himself to the north of the country.

One of the sore points on which the conflict between political power and the Chaldean Church centers is the personality of Rayan al-Kildani: the leader of the Babylon Brigades (a pro-Iranian Christian movement) accuses Cardinal Sako of dividing Christians by playing on the spirit of the party and by engaging too much in the political arena, at the risk of endangering the security of Iraqi Christians.

The Chaldean Patriarch, for his part, denounces the political “game” of al-Kildani, who would act in concert with the head of State, with the goal of walking off with the assets of the Church and installing members of his clan in key positions: in its statement of March 25, 2024, the Patriarchate makes a thinly-veiled allusion to the head of the Babylon Brigades, emphasizing that Cardinal Sako “did not form an outlaw militia, and did not incite sectarian strife.”

Passing through France some weeks before Easter 2024, the leader of the Chaldean Church tried to raise awareness in Western opinion about the cause of Iraqi Christians: “We are an ethnic, religious minority. We no longer have rights. We have become second or third-class citizens, even though this land of Iraq was a Christian land. I was the target [of the authorities] and after me, eleven other bishops were dismissed,” he lamented to the microphone of the French media.

The Lack of Support from Rome

Another cause of disappointment for the Iraqi high prelate lies also in the attitude of the Holy See toward him, which did not hasten to comment--that’s an understatement--on the voluntary exile of the cardinal in Kurdistan, nor to publicly show support for him. Worse for the Patriarch: on September 6, 2023, the Supreme Pontiff even briefly received Rayan al-Kidani in an audience.

As The Pillar reports, “A source close to the Vatican Secretariat of State told The Pillar at the time that the encounter was arranged outside of the usual diplomatic channels and that it was unclear whether the Papal Household was aware of al-Kildani’s background or had simply accepted on trust that he was part of an official Iraqi government delegation.”

This is one way to once again highlight the atmosphere of amateurism and casualness which hovers around the Vatican, which does not serve to enhance the image of pontifical diplomacy. And which is not likely to remedy the gloom of the Christians on the plains of Nineveh either.