Tribute to Louis Raphael Sako I, the tireless shepherd

For 50 years, His Eminence, Louis Raphaël Sako I, has been at the service of the Church of the East of the Chaldeans. An ideal moment to look back on his career as shepherd of the Chaldean Church and protector of the Chaldean identity.

It must be said: he is not just any shepherd. Mgr. Sako has seen several wars in Iraq during his half-century of service. These wars have always resulted in Christians in Iraq having to flee their homeland and thus becoming scattered to all corners of the world. When Mgr. Sako receives the episcopal ordination in 2003 while the American invasion of Iraq is ongoing. A year after his appointment as patriarch, the Islamic State terrorist group is fighting the Iraqi army. These last two wars in particular accelerated the emigration of Christians, mainly Chaldeans.

As patriarch, Mgr. Sako faced one of the greatest challenges in the history of the Church of the East. A shepherd who has to feed his flock in one place is one thing, but when the flock is scattered it is another matter.

Never in the history of Eastern Christians has such a spread occurred throughout the world. For more than ten years, Mgr. Sako travels around the world to shepherd his flock on every continent with the symbolic shepherd’s staff. He has often been challenged by the wolves in sheep’s clothing, but he has always tried to keep his flock together, even if he had to travel thousands of kilometers to do so.

At the same time, he braved the great difficulties in Iraq, so that the Christians left behind could continue their lives and to preserve the centuries-old heritage. Destroyed villages and churches have been rebuilt under his leadership. Also regarding the political tensions, Mgr. Sako played a big role. He has always maintained peaceful relations with government leaders and other religious leaders, so that the hope for a peaceful society in the Middle East could continue to be cherished. He was rightly nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018.

Under his patriarchal leadership, a significant number of deacons, priests and bishops have been ordained in Iraq and in the Diaspora. The Chaldean Church is and remains the unifying bond par excellence between all Chaldeans worldwide. With a good shepherd like Mgr. Sako, who embodies this bond, there is hope for the Chaldeans and unity in the Chaldean Church remains an attainable ideal.



On June 1, 1974, Louis Sako was ordained as a priest, after having received theological training at the then St. John’s Seminary of the Dominicans in Mosul. As a priest he served the Chaldean Church in Mosul Cathedral until 1979. He was then sent to Rome, where he obtained a doctorate in patristics from the Pontifical Oriental Institute. He subsequently obtained a doctorate in history from the Sorbonne University in Paris.

From 1997 to 2002, Louis Sako was rector of the Patriarchal Seminary in Baghdad. On October 24, 2002, he was elected Archbishop of Kirkuk (Iraq) and was consecrated bishop on November 14, 2003.

Ten years after his episcopal ordination, Mgr. Sako chosen as Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans. After 5 years of patriarchy, Pope Francis created him cardinal on June 28, 2018.