April 2021 | By Joe Snell
ERBIL — The election of a new patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East has been postponed, according to a release from a church official.
A special Holy Synod was supposed to take place in Erbil from April 18-25 and usher in a new patriarch of the church, but a surge in coronavirus cases in northern Iraq encouraged current patriarch Mar Gewargis III Sliwa to write to hierarchies of the church requesting their opinions on postponing. A majority replied recommending the Synod be postponed, according to Bishop Awa Royel, secretary of the Holy Synod, in the release.
No new date for the convocation has been announced.
The patriarchal seat of the church left the Middle East in 1933 and was reestablished in Chicago. The construction of a new patriarchate in Erbil began in 2006. The seat returned to the Middle East with Gewargis.
Gewargis was elected patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East in 2015, succeeding Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV who died in March of that year after a 39-year term. At the time, Gewargis was the only Assyrian metropolitan still living in Iraq.
In February 2020, the 81-year-old Gewargis announced his intention to resign his seat due to health reasons. A special session of the Assyrian Holy Synod was convened in April 2020 to set a path for a new election.
Last month, Gewargis welcomed Pope Francis to Erbil. The event was the last public event with the head of the Catholic church during his landmark visit to Iraq where Francis became the first pope to visit the country. Before giving the final blessing during a large mass at the Erbil stadium, Francis thanked Gewargis for holding his seat in the city and “honoring us with his presence.”
“Together with him, I embrace the Christians of the various denominations, many of whom have shed their blood in this very land,” Francis said. “Yet our martyrs shine together like stars in the same sky. From there they call us to walk together, without hesitation, towards the fullness of unity.”
The coronavirus pandemic has been surging in northern Iraq since last month when the Director of Health in Erbil Dlovan Mohammed announced that the rate of infection had jumped from 2.2% to 10%. On March 26, 725 new cases of the virus were recorded. The increase prompted the Ministry of Health to tighten preventative measures.
Earlier this month in an effort to curb the increasing infection rate, Kurdish health officials launched an online registration platform for residents to schedule vaccine appointments.