Card. Sako: a 'breath of fresh air' to unite Christians in the Middle East

The Chaldean Primate's message for the Week of Unity from 18 to 25 January. The call to the "minority threatened" by conflict, violence and migration. The need for Christian leaders to "overcome non-essential differences". The "outdated" sermons of some priests and the need to "communicate with current reality". The appeal to Benedict XVI. 


Baghdad (AsiaNews) - From being a majority, Christians in the Middle East have become a "minority threatened" by conflict, discrimination, violence and migration. The leaders of the various religious denominations must therefore "overcome non-essential differences" and oppose "fanaticism and fear" in order to defend and maintain "their presence" in the region.

This is the focus of a reflection on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity scheduled from 18 to 25 January, by Chaldean Primate, Card. Louis Raphael Sako, in a in which he raises the "need" for the Eastern Churches for "a breath of fresh air". In the document shared with AsiaNews, the cardinal also stresses the importance of "united positions" and a well thought-out and shared project. 

This year's theme for the week is "Learn to do good, seek justice" (Isaiah 1:17). An exhortation that is highly topical, especially in the face of the war in the heart of Europe launched by Russia in Ukraine, which also engulfs the Orthodox Churches.

As such, the prayer for unity also becomes a prayer for peace, repeatedly invoked by Pope Francis himself, who on the evening of 25 January - the solemnity of the conversion of St Paul - will preside over the celebration of Second Vespers in the basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, in Rome. 

In order to encourage Christians to stay, Patriarch Sako writes, it is necessary to educate to the commitment of faith on a personal, social level, also joining political participation "for the achievement of true citizenship, social justice and equality".

"Let us reconcile and unite", is the cardinal's appeal, "so that the land of our ancestors is not emptied of its original inhabitants", a land rich in history, of martyrs and made up of Churches that bear imprinted in their bodies "the pain of Christ". 

The Iraqi Cardinal recalls the "many ropes" that bind the Eastern Christian: difficulty in finding the meaning of religious texts and traditions, fear of modernity, multiplicity of Churches and competition, overlap between State and Church, language.

He does not spare harsh criticism of priests whose sermons he has heard or read interviews on the occasion of Christmas and the New Year, whose ideas he has found "outdated" and unable to "communicate with current reality". Speeches that end up 'alienating' young people from the churches and will lead future generations to lose faith. 

The reflection also includes a remembrance of the "late Pope Benedict XVI" who recently passed away "on the importance of the relationship between faith and reason" and on the "courage" to affirm the truth, restoring to the Church "its prophetic role in this troubled East".

This he recalls, because "the Churches must respond to cultural and social changes and to political and economic pressures" by following Christ's example. Hence, the priest must "speak honestly and courageously" about his concerns and aspirations to guarantee "equal civil rights" for all, safeguarding freedoms and a dignified life, letting "the light of the Gospel" shine.

At the same time, the cardinal warns against "closing oneself off in the past", obscuring the Church's still relevant role: "There is no true reform," he warns, "without the formation of the clergy, an integral priestly formation, with a consolidated religious culture [...] that allows them to carry out their pastoral mission in the best possible way, especially in these difficult and critical times". 

Countering fanaticism and giving priority to the theme of unity are two other essential elements recalled by the Chaldean Patriarch to guarantee this "breath of fresh air" to Christians in the East. Unity that does not mean cancelling the intrinsic peculiarities of the spiritual, cultural, theological, liturgical and musical heritage.

Lastly, recalling the siege of Constantinople by the Islamic armies while Byzantine theologians were discussing the sex of angels and the transformation of St Sophia into a mosque, he addresses a warning to the various realities: "In division there is no future for us, only unity and a common path are a guarantee of survival. Different churches can adopt a synodal style for cooperation and work, because what unites us is our faith, our land and our future'.