The new wave of infections, which also affects Iraq and the Kurdistan Autonomous Region, has resulted in the election of the new Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East being postponed to a later date, reported Fides News Agency.
The current Patriarch, Mar Gewargis III Sliwa, will therefore continue to exercise the patriarchal office until the health conditions in the region allow the Assyrian bishops to meet for a new electoral synod. The decision to postpone was announced in the last few days by the Secretariat of the Holy Synod of the Assyrian Church. The decision to postpone the election of the new patriarch was made in particular on the basis of data from the local health authorities on the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic in Erbil – the seat of the Patriarchate – and in the other cities of the Iraqi province of Kurdistan. On the basis of these data, Patriarch Gewargis carried out a quick consultation with the Bishops and with other authoritative members of the Assyrian Christian communities scattered in the Middle East and in the rest of the world. Most of the people consulted by the Patriarch expressed themselves in favor of postponing the patriarchal election.
In February 2020, Patriarch Gewargis himself expressed the wish to resign from the office for health reasons. For this reason, a first special session of the Assyrian Holy Synod was convened in the Patriarchate in Erbil in April 2020. The worldwide explosion of the pandemic that began shortly thereafter has so far made it impossible to hold the desired election of a new primate for the Assyrian Church of the East.
On Sunday, March 7th, Patriarch Mar Gewargis II took part in the mass with Pope Francis in the “Franso Hariri” stadium in Erbil, the last public event with the Pope during his visit to Iraq. At the end of the Holy Mass, Pope Francis expressly thanked “His Holiness Mar Gewargis III, Catholicos-Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, who has his seat in this city and honors us with his presence”.
“Thank you, thank you very much, dear brother ! “, Said the Pope,” together with him I embrace the Christians of the various denominations: Many have shed their blood here on the same ground! But our martyrs shine together like stars in the same sky! From above they ask us to walk together, without hesitation, towards the fullness of unity”. At the end of the Holy Mass, Patriarch Mar Gewargis presented Pope Francis with a chalice as a gift.
The 81-year-old Mar Gewargis III was elected Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East on September 16, 2015. He succeeded Mar Dinkha IV, who died in March of that year in the USA after a 39-year term in office. The Synod of the Assyrian Church of the East had elected the only Assyrian metropolitan still living in Iraq as the new patriarch (Gewargis III was the Assyrian Metropolitan of Iraq, Jordan, and Russia at the time of his election as patriarch).
The Assyrian patriarchal seat, following the exile of Patriarch Mar Eshai Shimun XXIII, had left the Middle East in 1933, and since 1940 had been established in Chicago, in the United States. In 2006 the construction of the new Patriarchate in Erbil began. With Patriarch Gewargis III, the seat of the Patriarchate returned to the Middle East and has since been in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous region of Kurdistan.