The Chaldean Catholic patriarch is supporting a more than 80-mile
peace march during Holy Week to urge an end to violence in his homeland
and throughout the Middle East.
The Chaldean Catholic Church has dedicated 2017 as the Year of Peace.
For the patriarch, Holy Week culminating in the Easter celebration
offers a fresh hope to breathe new life into prayer and reflection,
reconciliation and dialogue.
“Peace must be achieved by us [religious leaders] as well as
politicians, through courageous initiatives and responsible decisions,”
said Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad.
He has repeatedly called on Iraqis to engage in “serious dialogue,
openness and honesty” to realise national reconciliation and unity among
the country’s vast mosaic of religious and ethnic peoples, battered by
years of sectarian violence.
“Some 100 people, Iraqis and foreigners, are expected to participate
in the march, which will begin on Palm Sunday [April 9] with a Mass in
Irbil,” the patriarch told Catholic News Service by phone.
“They will walk from Irbil to Alqosh in the Ninevah Plain, needing
one week or more because the journey is very long, some [140 kilometres]
87 miles,” he said. “I will join them in a village near Alqosh on Holy
Thursday,” on April 13.
The march presents a “great occasion for unity,” and a common front
against the violence and bloodshed that have scarred Iraq and the
region, he said.
“Another group from Lyon, France, will help make the Way of the Cross
using as the stations villages from Telaskov to Bakova, a walk of two
to three hours,” Patriarch Sako told CNS.
This peace initiative is meant to demonstrate the bond among Iraqi
communities and churches around the world during the years of suffering
and persecution. These once-flourishing Christian towns have formed the
bedrock of centuries of Christian history and were recently liberated
from the brutal control of the so-called Islamic State militants.
Telaskov translates as “Bishop’s Hill” and, before the Islamic State
takeover, was a thriving, modern town of 11,000. But when ISIS attacked
in 2014, Christians fled. Although it is currently a ghost town, there
are hopes that it will revive when mines and booby traps left by the
militants are removed and its infrastructure rebuilt.
Last September, representatives of the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese
of Irbil told the US Congress that they had received no UN or US
government-administered humanitarian aid for 70,000 Christian or Yezidi
survivors of what has been now designated as a genocide against them and
other Iraqi minorities, carried out by the Islamic State since 2014.
Before the US-led 2003 war that toppled Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s
Christian population numbered 1.4 million. After being killed or driven
out, they number only 250,000 people. Despite these difficulties, Iraq’s
Christian community remains the Middle East’s fourth-largest indigenous
“At the moment, we are going through the tunnel, and we need to work
hard and pray without ceasing for peace in our country and the region
and for the safe return of the forcibly displaced people to their homes
and properties,” Patriarch Sako said in a recent Lenten address.
He urged the faithful “to rely on wisdom and patience and to stay
united together on the land where we were born [and have] lived for
1,400 years together with Muslims, sharing one civilisation.”
Ahead of Easter, Patriarch Sako said he hopes for “a real
resurrection, a quick return of displaced to their homes, and a
restoration of peace at our churches, country and the whole world.”