IRBIL, Iraq – 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
He has repeatedly called on Iraqis to engage
in "serious dialogue, openness and honesty"
to realize national reconciliation and unity
among the country's vast mosaic of religious
and ethnic peoples, battered by years of
"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
kilometers) 87 miles," he said. "I will join
them in a village near Alqosh on Holy
Thursday," 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
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
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 U.S. Congress that they had received no
U.N. or U.S. 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 U.S.-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 Christian
"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
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
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."