Priests and bishops are called to a meeting on 20 and 21 June. Focusing on the challenges and opportunities in this Year of Mercy, Patriarch Sako calls for a "human, spiritual and national awakening" in the face of “existing challenges, risks and temptations”. The future of the Church, he warns, depends "on the quality of its clergy."
Baghdad (AsiaNews) – In conjunction with the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis, and in a period of profound crisis in Iraq, the Chaldean Church has called a meeting to breathe new life in its pastoral work and mission at home and among its diaspora communities.
The gathering will be held on 20 and 21 June in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, where hundreds of thousands of Christians found refuge from Mosul and the Nineveh Plain after they were seized by the Islamic State group in the summer of 2014.
According to the Chaldean Patriarch, Mar Raphael Louis Sako, the event will also provide an opportunity to rethink the work of evangelisation and the role of the priests in the community.
In a statement sent to AsiaNews, and available on the Patriarchate’s website, Mar Sako stresses the need to "revive" the Chaldean Church’s mission, and the role of the clergy in the country, setting the focus on the Gospel teachings for “human, spiritual and national awakening" in the face of “existing challenges, risks and temptations”.
For the prelate, Iraq is going through a profound crisis, not only because of a government crisis and dysfunctional state institutions, but also at the social level and in terms of security. Ongoing attacks in the capital and elsewhere are claiming the lives of hundreds of civilians.
Iraq’s Christian community is also going through a major identity crisis, compounded by the loss of half of its population in the past decade due to flight abroad.
Rapid political and social changes, especially since the downfall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, have “affected all aspects of life, including the life of priests,” warns Mar Sako. “This complicated reality raises several fundamental questions about our priestly vocation and the impact of our mission today.”
In view of this, “The future of the Chaldean Church depends mainly on the quality of the clergy! The leaders of the Chaldean Church have to find a new style of administration and training/teaching that matches the reality in Iraq and in the diaspora!”
Ahead of the June meeting in Erbil, Mar Sako offers a number of questions to reflect upon, such as “How can a priest live his vocation and his mission in such unpredictable circumstances?”, “How can he live the Gospel and witness with joy, hope, loyalty and admiration””, how can “the homily of the priest influence positively the hearts and thoughts of parishioners in such harsh conditions?”, why are parishioners “joining evangelical groups?”, is the crisis due to priestly “indifference”?, “Can [a] priest live his mission [. . .] embodied [. . .] in various cultures [. . .] (enculturation)?”, “Can the priest be the same [. . .] for Christians and non-Christians?”, and “How can the priest do all that without dedicating [. . .] time for his personal prayers in addition to the regular prayers with people?”
Turning to the priestly role as such, the Chaldean Patriarch stressed how he has “to love, serve and care about the most vulnerable brothers”, as well as “be a sign of hope for them.” In a warning against some priests who “use their authority for personal benefits,” he says that this harms the Church and its foundations.
For Mar Sako, Chaldeans should turn to Christ and follow "by his example" the principles and values preached. He also urges his priests not to pursue an “ideal” model. When necessary, we must "admit that we made mistakes" and addressed them “rather than keep[. . .] them as accumulated secrets”.
Lastly, he calls on the everyone “to think seriously and be prepared for this meeting,” which should boost “our vocation” and give a new impulse to the mission of the Church.