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Chaldean Bishops Elect Kirkuk Archbishop as New Patriarch

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Pope Benedict XVI meets in a private audience with His Beatitude Mar Louis Rafael I of Kirkuk, the new patriarch of the Iraq-based Chaldean Church on 4 February at the Vatican. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters) 

Due to a large and steady stream of refugees since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Chaldeans have become the largest Eastern Catholic community in the United States. The two U.S. Chaldean dioceses, one based in Detroit and the other in San Diego, count more than 165,000 faithful. About 38,000 Chaldeans are served by a Toronto-based eparchy and another 35,000 belong to an eparchy in Sydney.

Cardinal Sandri presided over the election in Rome. He told Vatican Radio that Patriarch Louis Raphael I was well-equipped for his new position, especially because “he lived close to the blood of the martyrs, of all those who suffered from the violence,” whether they were Christian or Muslim.

In January 2012, gunmen shooting at guards keeping watch over Archbishop Louis Raphael’s residence in Kirkuk in northern Iraq triggered a firefight, leaving two of the gunmen dead and five policemen wounded. At the time, the archbishop said he believed the gunmen had the wrong target and police said they thought the intended victim was a member of parliament who lived next door to the archbishop.

As archbishop, he repeatedly pleaded to the government and the international community to do more to re-establish peace and security in the country, and he urged all Christians and Muslims to renounce violence.

In a 2010 statement marking the beginning of his Muslim neighbors’ Ramadan fast, he said the annual fast was “an occasion to find the courage for forgiveness and to realize reconciliation and justice, to heal the wounds of Iraqis and to once again find peace, security and stability.”

In the same message, he also asked “Christians to respect the feelings of their Muslim brothers and sisters, to not eat in public and to wear modest clothing, joining them in their prayers for peace and stability.”

The new patriarch was born 4 July 1948, in Zakho and studied at the Dominican-run St. John Seminary in Mosul. Ordained to the priesthood in 1974, he served at the Mosul cathedral for five years before being sent to Rome for studies. He earned a doctorate from Rome’s Pontifical Oriental Institute and then a doctorate in history from the Sorbonne in Paris.

Returning to Mosul in 1986, he served as pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish and, during the U.S.-led embargo of Iraq, he and several physicians and pharmacists opened a dispensary for the poor.

In 1997, he was named to a five-year term as rector of the patriarchal seminary in Baghdad. In 2002, the Chaldean bishops’ synod elected him archbishop of Kirkuk, an election approved by Blessed John Paul II in 2003.





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Tags: Pope Benedict XVI Eastern Churches Chaldean Church Patriarchs Chaldeans