Pope praises deceased Assyrian patriarch as wise pastor, ecumenical leader

By Ann Schneible

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Pope Francis addresses interreligious faith leaders in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Jan. 13, 2015. Credit: EWTN.

Pope Francis has sent a telegram of condolences following the death of Catholicos Dinkha IV, patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, describing him as an “important spiritual leader, a courageous and wise pastor.”

The patriarch passed away on Mar. 26 in Rochester, Minnesota at the age of 79.

Addressing the telegram to Mar Aprem, Metropolitan of the Assyrian Church of the East for India, Pope Francis assured him, as well as all bishops, clergy, and faithful of the “spiritual closeness of all Catholics.”

“The Christian world has lost an important spiritual leader, a courageous and wise pastor who faithfully served his community in extremely challenging times,” the Pope said.

He observed that the Iraq-born patriarch had “suffered greatly because of the tragic situation in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and in Syria, resolutely calling attention to the plight of our Christian brothers and sisters and other religious minorities suffering daily persecution.”

The pontiff recalled how he and the patriarch had spoken “at length” about the crisis in the Middle East during the latter's visit to the Vatican in October, 2014.

Born in Iraq on Sep. 15, 1935, Catholicos Dinkha had been residing in Chicago, Illinois, where he had set up headquarters amid instability brought about the Persian Gulf War in the 1980s.

The patriarch had led the ecumenical efforts of the Assyrian Church, which had become separated from the rest of the Christian world in the 5th Century after rejecting the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon. Along with Saint John Paul II, Catholicos Dinkha signed the “Common Christological Declaration Between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church” on Nov. 11, 1994.

Pope Francis also acknowledged the “enduring commitment” of the patriarch “to improving relations among Christians and in particular between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East.”

Following the death of Catholicos Dinkha, the Assyrian Church of the East issued a statement: “His Holiness had dedicated his entire life, to serving our Lord and our Holy Church. All his life he worked hard to be a spiritual father to us all. Heaven has welcomed him today and may he rest in peace.”

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