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Chaldean Catholic leader suspends local priest

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EL CAJON, Calif. - The leader of the Chaldean Catholic church has suspended 10 Chaldean priests including one from El Cajon.

Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako is demanding the priests, including Father Noel Gorgis, who fled during the Gulf War return to Iraq. Sako claims the priests did not have the proper church approval to leave the country.

“I left Iraq 20 years ago. I left Iraq during the Gulf War. I know what’s going on there and now it’s worse… way worse… so to go back it’s mean to be suicide,” said Father Noel.

He said ISIS militants have all but destroyed and displaced Catholics and other religious minorities across Iraq and Syria. He said returning to Iraq would mean he and his fellow clergy men would face certain death.

National Chaldean spokesman Mark Arabo said the community is shocked by Sako’s demands.

“We are not going to let it happen. We’re not going to let them go back, and we’ll make sure these ten priests not one of them goes back to the hands ISIS in Iraq,” said Arabo.  “Thirty percent of our churches have been bombed, destroyed Our priests have been killed, martyred.  He wants these ten priests to be killed? You cannot force these 10 priests to be martyrs.”

The regional Chaldean Catholic Diocese sent several appeals to Sako who has only been leader of the Chaldean Catholic Diocese for two years. Now, they’ve gone above him and sent their appeals directly to the Vatican lifting Sako’s suspension.

No word on when the Vatican will respond.

In the meantime, the El Cajon community continues to hold prayer vigils.

Father Noel is hopeful Pope Francis will come through and reverse the order to return to Iraq.

"I'll ask people to pray for me,” said Father Noel.