The Bishop of the Des Moines Diocese of the Catholic Church has just returned from Baghdad, Iraq where he served as the U.S. representative for the installation of the new patriarch of the Catholic Church in that country. Bishop Richard Pates is the chair of the Committee on International Justice and Peace for the U.S. Conference of Bishops.
“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 well.
“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.