02/09/2015, 00.00
IRAQ

Out of the Synod comes a united Chaldean Church that is closer to refugees, says Baghdad patriarch

by Joseph Mahmoud
Mar Sako is happy with the Synod's activities, which underscored its members' "unity" and "communion". Noting his "deep regret" for the absence of a rebellious bishop, he expressed solidarity with families living in shelters, and asked for new aid from Baghdad and Erbil. A "Friday of Martyrs" will commemorate the Ottomans' massacre of Assyrians and Chaldeans in 1915.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - The Special Synod of the Chaldean Church, held last Saturday in Baghdad in the presence of Patriarch Mar Raphael I Louis Sako, and several prelates and leaders of the eastern Church, focused on a number of issues, including solidarity for displaced Christian families whose jihadist-held lands and assets "must be freed" and returned so that they may live in security.

The prelates, who called for unity and communion in the Chaldean Church at a critical time when a rebellious bishop, and rebellious priests and monks have challenged the hierarchy, have agreed to continue plans to create a 'Chaldean League' and a 'patriarchal appeal court to examine cases involving the Chaldean clergy. Participants also decided to set aside a day each year, the first Friday after Easter, to remember "the martyrs and confessors of the faith" who died in 1915.

The Synod was preceded by the ordination of two new bishops - Mgr Emanuel Hana Shaleta, from the Chaldean Diocese of Saint Addai and Mgr Basel Yaldo, the new patriarchal vicar.

Speaking to AsiaNews, the Patriarch of Baghdad said he was happy with the Synod's work. "Perfect harmony" emerged among us and we share the same goal of "continuing to help refugee families" since, so far, "the government has promised a lot but done very little. Only the Church has really helped."

In view of the situation, Mar Sako said the Church is still bent on establishing an "International Chaldean League" to "defend and help displaced Chaldeans, promote the protection of the Chaldean heritage, and defend persecuted Christians."

Similarly, His Beatitude stressed that the establishment of a special day in remembrance of the Assyrian and Chaldean massacres is necessary because "we too lost four dioceses and three bishops" during that period.

The synod comes at a troubled time for the eastern Church, threatened by Islamist violence that has more than halved its population in just a few years, more so since the jihadist Islamic State group seized parts of northern Iraq, including Mosul and the Nineveh Plain, a few months ago.

One issue that remains unresolved is the dispute "with a stubborn bishop," who "boycotted the Synod and encourages emigration," as well as rebellious priests and monks. By contrast, "We want to stay here in Iraq, in our land because," he explained, "we want to continue to be a sign of hope."

Since 2013 in fact, Patriarch Raphael I Louis Sako and Bishop Sarhad Jammo of the Diocese of St. Peter the Apostle (San Diego, California) have been embroiled in a dispute concerning a number of priests and monks who fled Iraq without the permission of their bishops or superiors.

On several occasions, the patriarch told the monks and priests to come back to Iraq, and reminded the bishop of his duty of obedience, so far without results.

A meeting on the issue is set in the Vatican for 17 February. Mar Sako hopes that this will settle the dispute, thus preserving "the unity of the Chaldean Church".

At the end of the Synod, participants also expressed their "deep regret" for the absence and "non-cooperation" of Bishop Jammo, Mgr Bawai Soro, and other priests, whose behaviour falls short of "unity and communion" and whose choices have had a "negative influence" on the Church and the faithful.

In a statement, the patriarch and the bishops also renewed their "solidarity" with the families of refugees. They reiterated their commitment and service to easing their pain and difficulties, and thanked all those who "helped out" in recent months.

Synod participants also expressed hope that Iraq's central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government will be able, after so many promises, "to allocate funds to help families forced out and despoiled by the Islamic State group." Equally, the international community is duty-bound to "join forces" to "liberate the occupied territories" and "ensure the return of all displaced persons."

In confirming a plan to create an "International Chaldean League," the Synod decided to set aside a day each year, a Friday, to remember the "martyrs and confessors of the faith."

In doing so, the bishops mentioned the Assyrian Genocide (also known as Sayfo), which saw the Ottoman Empire deport en masse Christians from the Assyrian, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic and Chaldean Churches in 1915-1916.

Over a two-year period, this resulted in the death of more than 275,000 Christians, more than 750,000 according to other sources. Memorial Masses and cultural activities will be held in every diocese and parish. A book on a 'less known massacre' will also be published.

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