Baghdad ( AsiaNews) - "Our Chaldean Church in Iraq and the world has gone through difficult and critical circumstances" such as the massive emigration, lack of unity, the revision of the liturgy, fragmentation and isolation. Now is the time to turn to prayer " to see things in perspective of the Gospel" to walk "with honesty and trust in the Lord's Light and His enlightenment" writes Mar Louis Raphael I Sako in a pastoral letter addressed to the bishops, priests, nuns and faithful on the occasion of the first anniversary of his election as Chaldean Patriarch, which took place January 31, 2013 during the Synod in Rome. The former archbishop of Kirkuk succeeded His Beatitude Emmanuel III Delly, who resigned for reasons of age, and from the outset has placed the focus on the major challenges of the Chaldean Church: the exodus of the faithful , interreligious dialogue with Muslims and the rebirth of the communities of the East , the first protagonists of evangelization in Asia.
His Beatitude turn his thoughts to the Christians in Iraq and "the brothers in Syria and Lebanon," who "live today [in situations of] fear and instability, migration, and political and economic fragility" and to whom he expresses "sympathy, closeness and prayer". To them, but especially to the Chaldean community, Mar Sako renews his call to "revive" their original charism: "Gift of martyrdom during persecution, and steadfast in faith; gift of monastic life to live radically the Gospel, and gift of evangelizing, preaching and enculturation". "Our Church - he added - is invited to rebuild what was destroyed and distorted, gather the scattered, and brings back the immigrants".
In his pastoral letter to His Beatitude reiterates on several occasions the value of unity and communion, which will "free us from our divisions, internal and external " and "take us out from shutting on ourselves due to personal, sectarian and geographic reasons". "Unity is the only hope - he continues - for our future". And at the same time he emphasizes the values of " love, charity, loyalty and sacrifice". The patriarch reaches out to all "Christian brothers and sisters" with feelings of "peace , love and respect " and thanks God for the gift of the Chaldean Church , in recent days, in fact , the community celebrated the consecration of three new bishops a sign of consolation , strength and hope" at a "critical" moment.
Mar Sako again emphasizes the
role of lay men and women who enjoy the same dignity as "sons of God"
and "equal rights" within the Church. They
are "partners, not mere spectators" and "encourage them to participate in the life of the
Church and public life, a real and effective participation". The Patriarch speaks of "great
expectations" in view of the elections at the end of April 2014, and
invites the Christian community to participate in order to become an active
protagonist in the history and life of the nation.
Finally , His Beatitude also appeals for unity among the various churches, especially Eastern ones, which must look to the Pope with renewed confidence . And there is a reference to relations with the Muslim-majority in Iraq, renewing the commitment to a dialogue based on "mutual respect" as a basis "for peace and cooperation." He hopes that the Church will find a "new methodology" and a new " theological language", above all respecting the absolute value of "religious freedom". The Patriarch particularly appeals to the "voices of moderate Islam" to promote a "peaceful coexistence" and reject "violence against Christians".
Born on 4 July 1948 in Zakho, northern Iraq, Patriarch Sako was ordained priest on 1 June 1974. On several occasions, the archbishop of Kirkuk denounced the exodus of Christians, whose numbers have been more than halved, appealing to Church officials and local political leaders as well as the international community to ensure that Christians have a future in their native land.In recognition for his work, the prelate received the Defensor Fidei award in 2008; two years later, he was given the Pax Christi international award.