“On June 5 the first Synod of the Chaldean Church convened by the new Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako, who was elected last January 31 will begin in Baghdad. The agenda of the synodal assembly is more than challenging. Several points on the agenda: the appointment of bishops in several Chaldean bishoprics left vacant in Iraq, the Middle East and in Western Countries; the formation of priests; the final draft of a “law” of the Chaldean Church to be submitted to the consent of the Apostolic See; updating and harmonization of the liturgical rites celebrated unevenly in the various dioceses; the study of concrete measures to curb the phenomenon of migration and encourage Christians to remain in their homeland or to make return.”
The Chaldean Catholic Church Synod Starts today in Baghdad, Iraq. In addition to the official items on the agenda, as outlined above, this synod will face several other challenges and questions.
Some are so vital to the church’s future and depending on how they are addressed, it could mean the difference between a strong church or one that is divided on itself. Here are some of these challenges and questions. Interestingly, the Chaldean National Conferences, held a few weeks ago (and I wrote about it here kinda set the tone for this synod. Yes, you read that right: a national political conference setting the tone for an upcoming synod That tells you why this synod is in a bit of a controversy, created from the outside.
1-Dealing with the emerging and powerful trio
there is an emerging and increasingly powerful trio in the chaldean church. Well, more like two and a half, because the third is not yet a full member of the chaldean church. I am talking about Mar Ibrahim Ibrahim (chaldean bishop in Detroit) , Mar Sarhad Jamo (chaldean bishop in San Diego) and their beloved and charming friend, Mr. Ashur Soro (the former, and now excommunicated Assyrian church of the East bishop) The two chaldean bishops (and joint by Ashur Soro) are growing in power and influence within the Chaldean church. Their two dioceses combined-located in areas with the largest chaldean concentration outside of Iraq-are very wealthy and probably more than the rest of the chaldean dioceses combined. This increasing power is enabling these two bishops to take matters into their own hands at times, independent of the chaldean church’s central authority in Iraq. In fact, and this is evidenced and chronicled by chaldean writers too, it is starting to become an east vs. west battle within the chaldean church, or nationalists (west) vs. religious (east)
2-Accepting Ashur Soro into the chaldean church in a full scale
as mentioned already, Ashur Soro is starting to become a headache for the chaldean church more than it was for the Assyrian church in his last few days. He may have good intentions for his new church but he is starting to divide it into two camps. Those who want him officially accepted as a new chaldean bishop into their church and those who don’t. The latter are those who think such a move would harm relations with the Assyrian church and compromise any chances for a future unity dialogue. But even the status quo wouldn’t be ideal for the church. As long as the name ‘Ashur Soro’ is associated with the chaldean church, officially or not, problems will exist. Expect his name and future to be a hot issue at this and upcoming synods.
3-Should the church take a political stand?
This is a debate that we have discussed at length in our recent article. There is a growing pressure on the chaldean church, from some ultra and rogue national elements, to take a political stand on issues. The church on the other hand, or at least its patriarch Mar Louis Sako, has asserted his position and made it clear that the church is a church first and is not to get involved in non-religious matters. But not everyone is on the same page as the patriarch. Even within the church itself, some bishops and members of the clergy want to go all out and start mixing politics with religion. They use different excuses and pretenses for this and try to lobby the chaldean people on their side. But this is starting to drive a wedge in the church. Mar Louis Sako can only tolerate this clear rebellion within his church for so long. It is known that during the reign of the former patriarch, the now retired Mar Emmanuel III Delly, he had a loose control over how things were running, especially in the US dioceses, which enabled some bishops to gain more influence. For Mar. Louis Sako, things have looked a lot different from the start. He has shown that he means business and will steer his church in the right direction, not letting anyone take it in the wrong direction, even if it means excommunicating members from the church. But will the two powerful bishops in the US and their friend (the powerful trio) listen to him?
4-The unity with the Assyrian church
how can there be a chaldean synod without going over the issue of going back and uniting with the native eastern church, the one that started it all. It is not an easy topic for both churches but it is an essential one that must be given more effort and attention. But given the issues within the chaldean church, I suspect and worry that they will need more time to fix and unite the chaldean church itself first before looking into the union with the Assyrian church.
This synod is more important that almost any other chaldean synod in the last few decades. The way it will address and find answers to the questions posed above will spell the difference between a church that is united and strong for the future-our hope-or one that is divided and weak. In fact, should these differences amongst the clergy persist and get stronger, I wouldn’t be surprised if the worst was to happen: a church that is officially divided. The main and original camp is the one based out of Iraq and headed by Mar Louis Sako. The other, the rebellious one, based out of the US and headed by the trio of Mar Ibrahim Ibrahim, Mar Sarhad Jamo and Ashur Soro.
Ironically, the rebellious elements within the chaldean church, those who want the church to adopt a more political and tougher tone, are the ones that are not even in Iraq, where the real action is. While those that want to keep the church on a strictly religious path, are those that chose to stay in Iraq, the motherland.
It it time Mar Louis Sako took over the steering wheel to guide the ship in right direction. At the same time, he should rein in any attempts by certain elements to take the church in a direction that will spell the end of it.