Churches in the Middle East: beyond the 'darkness' of War, Lent is a Time of Mercy

For Card Sako, the time of fasting and prayer offers a “new horizon" that invites us to let "the Holy Spirit change us from within." The vicar of southern Arabia speaks of a "path" of hope, mercy and forgiveness. The Maronite patriarch asks the faithful to pray for the "divisions, conflicts, hatred" in Lebanon. Mar Younan mentions the "process of repentance through the Holy Spirit.”

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Card Louis Raphael Sako, Patriarch of Baghdad of the Chaldeans, released a pastoral letter for the season of Lent, which begins today, which he sent to AsiaNews for information.

For the prelate, in a world increasingly "shrouded by the darkness" of war, sectarian violence and selfishness, the time of fasting and prayer that precedes Easter shows our lives "a new horizon", inviting us to "let the Holy Spirit change us from within".

The cardinal warns that, from the Holy Land to Ukraine, the situation at present seems to be "exceptionally more complicated" and getting worse, “especially in our region. Due to the neglect of human and religious values, our world is in a state of chaos, imbalance, instability.”

“Domestic cleavages over power and money" are accompanied by "external interventions for political and economic interests" that end up fuelling “devastating wars”.

In the face of an escalation that affects hearts and minds, creates turmoil, feeds anxiety and fear, and risks turning into a global conflict, the period of Lent provides an opportunity for prayer and reflection

"Fasting,” notes Card Sako, “is not only fasting from food, but also from sin. It is a time of conversion and repentance,” as well as “a time of practical application of the commandment of love and mercy."

"We must return to our authenticity, give a wonderful example to our parishes, families and societies, converting and decisively confronting evil behaviour, before disaster strikes", to "achieve peace" in a "world shrouded in darkness."

Bishop Paolo Martinelli, Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia (United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Yemen), emphasises how Lent is "a journey of hope because God wants our salvation and offers us his abundant forgiveness and mercy."

In his message to the faithful, the prelate recalls that of Pope Francis, with a thought about the "desert" through which "God leads us to freedom."

"I invite you to meditate on it," exhorts Bishop Martinelli, because "the image of the desert is familiar to us. We are called to pass from the slavery of sin to the freedom to be children of God: to conversion, to a profound change of life."

Finally, the prelate invites the faithful to live this time of preparation for Easter "by dedicating more time to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.”

“Fasting (not only from food but from many useless things that make us victims of consumerism) helps us to free ourselves from vices and idols. Almsgiving impels us to charity and love for others.”

Therefore, "Let us find opportunities to help someone in need," he notes. “God loves those who give with joy. May the Lenten journey bring you fruits of joy and authentic freedom.”

Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi also calls for fasting and reconciliation. In his message for Lent, inspired by the words of the prophet Joel and entitled "Return to God with all your heart", he invites the faithful to extend "a hand in physical, spiritual and moral help" through a "spirit of repentance and austerity".

For the cardinal, the most important duty of the Church, its pastors, sons and daughters, is to "set an example of living reconciliation" among themselves and with the people who make up the community, "especially in cases of abuse and evil”. “Reconciliation is born," he explains, "from the mercy we learn from God" who is "rich in mercy."

Patriarch Rahi mentions the general state of Lebanese society and its political situation, suffering "from divisions, conflicts, hatred and malice" whose price is paid "by the Lebanese people at all levels: social, political, constitutional, financial and in terms of reform."

For this reason, it is "the duty of all of us, together with all people of good will, to end differences, remove their causes, strengthen mutual respect, and restore lost trust between the components of the nation.”

"This is how we live the season of Great Lent, known as the time of reconciliation, starting with the family, then society, up to political parties and groups,” he says.

"Once reconciliation and trust have been achieved, we will be able to cooperate to rebuild the state and its institutions, revive the economy, stimulate trade, and relaunch banks and financial activity," the cardinal notes in his conclusion.

For the Syriac Catholic Patriarch of Antioch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, the time of fasting becomes "a process of repentance through the Holy Spirit."

The season of Lent, the primate explains in his message, is "a journey of repentance, that is, a spiritual return full of remorse to God, through the Holy Spirit" during which "we listen to his life-giving words" so that "his light may shine in our lives."

Titled “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you", from the Evangelist Luke, the text refers to the Holy Spirit who led Jesus "into the desert so that he might fast for 40 days tempted by the devil" ending "with the marvellous victory over the tempter".

"The Spirit guides the Church through time, accompanies us and guides our steps in the desert of this world, especially in the season of Lent, so that we can experience with Christ our shortcomings and weaknesses, and our need for repentance and renewal."

Photo: Holy Family Parish Church in Gaza