05/26/2016, 13.58
IRAQ
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Archbishop of Kirkuk: Against violence and extremism, a "wide awake and merciful" Church

Msgr. Yousif says the upcoming assembly of Chaldean clergy in Erbil must "chart a new path" in an era of "enormous changes and challenges." The priests also "essential" for the Muslims, because they assume a "bridge" role with modernity. The work of Catholic education and health care. The refugees from Mosul witnesses of a faith stronger than terrorism.

Kirkuk (AsiaNews) - The Iraqi Church needs "to stay awake". Like the disciples "tended to sleep" while Jesus "passed through difficult times", so now the priests "are likely to be devolved from reality" and this can be "dangerous." It's not a question of "morals", but "presence, assistance, vigilance". This is what the archbishop of Kirkuk, Msgr. Yousif Thoma Mirkis, tells AsiaNews.  In one months’ time there will be a meeting of the clergy organized by the Chaldean Patriarch Raphael Louis Sako, to revive the pastoral work and mission in the country and among the diaspora communities. "At the same time - adds the prelate - I hope that this meeting will chart a new path for our Church, that is experiencing enormous changes, challenges, and we cannot just 'wait for the situation to improve' ...".

The Chaldean Church Assembly is scheduled on 20 and 21 June in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, in northern Iraq, where hundreds of thousands of Christians found shelter after fleeing Mosul and the Nineveh plain with the rise of Islamic state in the summer of 2014. The gathering will also provide an opportunity, as the patriarch noted in his letter, to rethink the work of evangelization and the role of the priest in the community.

For Msgr. Yousif, at the helm of the archdiocese for two years, the Church in Iraq "is called to look in the mirror of the mercy of Christ" and wonder what Jesus would do today, if he returned to the world. It is an "essential" element "at this meeting" in Erbil, that he "hopes can be discussed in a frank and courageous manner". Mercy is "the source of our actions", it is not just "a feeling, but something more profound" that unites us to Christ.

For the prelate, the theme of mercy deeply touches Muslims too, especially those who invoke God as "All merciful and compassionate" and then "stir up violence, blowing themselves up, killing." He sees a "serious crisis" in Islam not only at the level of internal "identity", but also in terms of its difficulties and uncertainties in its relationship with others, non-Muslims. That's why a rethinking of the faith is even more urgent among the followers of Mohammed, a radical change similar to the one that took place "in the Catholic Church with the Second Vatican Council".

Along with the Muslim community, the Iraqi Church must be committed to "the rebirth" of the country.  The Archbishop insists above all on the fact that "wars cannot continue for an indefinite period of time." He adds that "citizenship" is the common element of development, not other characteristics such as religion or ethnic origin.

"A positive secularism - he adds - will be the remedy" to the ills of the country, separating "religion from politics. All crises are a source of division, especially the crisis of identity". In this development, Catholics can play an essential role in the "education and health sectors "; especially in schools, where the Church can help "improve the programs" and play "the role of" bridge builders between different realities, between students of different faiths, ethnicities, different social backgrounds.

Analyzing the role of the clergy, one of the main themes of the June meeting, Msgr. Yousif stressed that it is "essential not only for Christians but also for non-Christians who need interlocutors able to listen to them and understand them." Priests are generally "more educated than Muslim religious leaders" and even then they can have a "bridge" role with modernity, especially where difficulties and misunderstandings with Islam and its faithful go against reason . "We must help them –he  adds - to address the taboos ... As the Dominican fathers did bringing the first printing press in Iraq in 1869, because for three centuries the Ottomans had prevented the use of the press for fear that would upset people. This problem is still present today, seen in the fear of culture".

The archbishop of Kirkuk recalls the testimony of Christians in Mosul and the Nineveh plain, who despite "wars and sufferings", have never ceased to "bear witness to the faith" and show how "the roots" of the Church are planted in deep in Iraqi soil. He states that "no Christian" in the region has renounced his faith "to save his home or his property" even in the face of the violence of the Islamic State (IS). "They preferred to lose everything – he adds - without appealing to violence or revenge."

Finally, he praises the efforts made by all the dioceses to accommodate 400 students (in the cover photo) from refugee families. "I admire them for their courage - concludes Msgr. Yousif - because they are serious and willing students, last year they managed to pass all of their examinations [... these young people] are the swallow that heralds the true spring for the future of Iraq. " (DS)

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