“I was particularly honored to be able to be present. The Chaldean
Church is the largest Catholic Church community in Iraq. It is in union
with the Catholic Church throughout the world — but is Oriental– and so
they have their own history which dates back to Thomas the apostle, who
was associated with Jesus,” Pates says.
Pate says Iraq is trying to get a handle on the loss of Catholics and
other Christians from the country. “They’ve experienced as I think
everybody is aware, some oppression, some persecution, etcetera. As a
result, the Chaldean Church itself I think has lost roughly half of its
membership. At one point it was 700,000 at his point it is 350,000,”
according to Pates.
“All of this has occurred since the invasion and occupation of the
American forces in Iraq. So it has been a very difficult situation for
the people there. They are trying to stop the hemorrhaging of the
Christians.” Pates says his role was to show American support for the
church in Iraq, and to encourage those in the country to not leave. He
says there was a positive show of support from the Iraqi government as
“The prime minister was present and gave quite a long speech, as well
as the president of parliament. I understand that they are political
rivals — so that for both of them to come together in support of this
one particular serious issue I think is evidence that they want to move
in this direction,” Pate says.
“Hopefully they are successful for the sake of the church and the
continuation of that community there.” As for the country itself, Pate
says it too continues to face many challenges. “They are still in a very
difficult situation. I am told that there are 4,000 checkpoints in the
city environs of Baghdad alone, and so you’re constantly after a few
blocks needing to go through a checkpoint, etcetera,” he says.
“I believe that they are working very hard to restore some order to
the country.” Pates says the new patriarch of the church Louis Rafael
Sako, has a big job ahead of him, but is also committed to rebuilding
the membership of the church. Pates was chosen for the trip to replace
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York after Dolan was called to Rome for
the conclave to elect a new Pope.
The Diocese of Des Moines includes 81 parishes in 23 counties in central and southwest Iowa.