01/23/2009, 00.00
VATICAN – IRAQ
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Iraqi bishops urge faithful not to fear, invite them to return to missionary path

Mgrs Warduni and al-Qas call on people to overcome “fears and divisions.” They urge Christians to remain in Iraq as a message of hope. They slam European and US Protestant sects for exploiting people’s suffering to “buy” them with money.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The difficult but hopeful situation of the Church and Christians in Iraq and a proposed General Synod of Middle East Churches were the topics discussed by Pope Benedict XVI and Mgr Louis Sako, archbishop of Kirkuk, during a private audience this morning. Iraqi bishops are currently in Rome for their ad limina visit to the Vatican.

Iraq’s Church is going through a time of suffering and persecution. Many Iraqi Christians have left the country because of attacks, abductions, and murders.

In some parts of the country like Mosul in the north targeted killings of Christians continue as part of a campaign to get rid of them.

Yet, despite the difficulties, Iraq’s bishops are not willing to give in to the “logic of violence.” They are instead trying to find “common ways to share in the rebuilding of Iraq” which would breathe new life into the “Church’s ancient place in the country, history and traditions.”

With this in mind, a proposal was submitted to the Holy Father, to organise “a Synod of Middle Eastern Churches,” the prelate told AsiaNews, “because all of us are going through the same difficulties and face the same problems,” one which Benedict XVI heard and appreciated it, saying that it was “a good idea”.

“We are small communities, but we share a desire to pursue our mission in the region. The Synod will cover a range of topics, including Christian emigration. We have laid out a plan for the synod with a programme and the issues to be tackled.”

For Archbishop Sako this also means that the international community and the Universal Church must “support the Christian presence in Iraq.” Also the Iraqi government should establish a “Minorities Ministry”, a step that would give meaning to their presence in the country, protect their rights and encourage their staying.”

“We must get involved so Christians can play a role in Iraq’s social life,” said the prelate. “We must preserve their ethnic and cultural heritage.”

The Iraqi Church must, he explained, “update its evangelical message” because “we cannot live in and focus on the past. Instead we must look forward into the future with hope” and adapt missionary actions “to today’s society if we want a sincere dialogue with Muslims.”

The prelate also wants to see “missionaries adequately trained,” strong in their faith, good examples “in their lives because teaching the catechism, saying Mass and upholding [Christian] precepts as a routine are not enough.”

Renewal must stem from a global rethinking of “catechesis and pastoral care” that is “adapted to today’s reality” in a society, like that of Iraq, that “has changed.”

The Church “must go back to being the centre for all Christians and all Iraqis, including Muslims, by promoting of a culture of dialogue,” said Archbishop Sako. Its “history and traditions make it the only institution capable of building strong and lasting bridges. Knowing the ground on which to build dialogue and the language that must be used to do so are a must.”

In a final appeal the bishop of Kirkuk said: “We need to train catechists, priests, nuns. Many have left and those of us still in the country are but a few. The Universal Church must look after us; help us train; assist us in rebuilding. The same goes for the country’s youth. They must learn about Christian life, how to take part in active politics, get an education in their land because those who do leave risk losing their identity.” (DS)

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