08/23/2022, 11.20
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Baghdad: Chaldean Church Synod and Iraqi Christians at risk of 'disappearance

by Louis Raphael Sako *

The bishops meeting with Patriarch Sako is being held in Baghdad from August 21 to 27. The opening address is a new cry of alarm about the future of the community.  Islamic heritage makes Christians 'second-class citizens'. An appeal to the political class for a new executive capable of responding to the country's challenges. A call for an examination of conscience on the exercise of authority even in the Church: "The concept of leadership in the East does not help to spread the culture of asking for forgiveness".

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - Iraqi Christians, and those of other Middle Eastern nations too, are heading "towards disappearance" unless there is a "change" in the way of thinking, in governmental, social and economic policies. In his introductory address to the Synod of the Chaldean Church, scheduled to take place in Baghdad from 21 to 27 August, Primate Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako issues a new cry of alarm about the future of the community in a land of which they are an original component. "The Islamic heritage," warns the cardinal, "makes Christians second-class citizens" and tolerates "the usurpation of their property". This is why the basic rules of coexistence must be rewritten, starting with the Constitution according to the principles and ideals affirmed by Pope Francis in Iraq in March 2021. 

The Chaldean Patriarch, greeting the bishops and personalities present at the Synod, touched on other essential issues: ecclesial responsibility; the Church's strength that consists in service; accompaniment with a fatherly spirit; priestly and monastic vocations, male and female; the liturgy. On the opening day, the bishops also addressed an appeal to Iraqi politicians, recalling the 20 years of violence and instability and the current phase of blockade, with "negative" repercussions on the economy and society. Hence the call to 'speed up' the formation of a new executive, capable of promoting the necessary reforms. 

Below is Patriarch Sako's speech. Translation by AsiaNews:

Once again this year we are summoned to the annual synod, enlightened by the Holy Spirit. Our synod comes as part of the Catholic Church's reflection on synodality in view of the Synod of 2023, walking together in communion and mission. May this occasion help to deepen these points in our Church, dioceses and parishes.

1. We are called to carry our ecclesial, human and national responsibility in the spirit of Christ. It includes a living and passionate relationship with Jesus, for whom we have been consecrated, just as he himself consecrated himself: "And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.... that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them" (John 17: 19, 26). This relationship with Christ, based on truth, charity and the Spirit allows us, and allows our faithful, a mature spirituality, and encourages us to fulfil our mission with generosity and selflessness, far from particularism and the desire for domination and fame. 

2. The strength of the Church, and of dioceses, is found in service and not in demonstration for its own sake. Administration cannot be exercised without power, but it must not lead to despotism and dictatorship. This is why Jesus warns: "You know that those who are considered the rulers of the nations rule over them and their leaders oppress them. But among you it is not so; but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant" (Mk 10:42-43).

The concept of leadership in the East does not help to spread the culture of asking for forgiveness!

Our authority is based on being apostles, through collegiality, which extends to all members of the People of God (the Church), priests, monks and nuns, lay people, irrespective of gender and social class, united in the work of the Church, even if the responsibility for decisions falls on our shoulders. This opens up new horizons for us, especially in these difficult (and challenging) conditions that our country is going through. The bishop must be able to read the signs of the times and assess them in the light of faith, as the prophets and apostles did in bringing the Gospel, so that the cries of God may become a source of hope.

3. The paternal accompaniment of our helpers, that is, our priests. Paternal, not authoritarian, accompaniment, as one does with one's children, treating them humanely and charitably, with respect, safeguarding their dignity, but fulfilling their charisma with study, formation and the sanctification of souls. Hence the need to educate their spirituality, culture, and pastoral work. It is unacceptable for there to be divisions: this is the greatest danger to the unity of the diocese and priestly witness. When this happens, it must be dealt with delicately, face to face. Difficulties and problems will always exist, as in the days of the apostles, but they must become opportunities for the development of charity, friendship and the strengthening of trust. Discipline is important because disorder is destructive.

4. Importance of priestly and monastic vocations. The future of our Church is based on vocations (priestly, monastic in all its types). It is an obligation for the bishop to give priority to vocations.

5. The liturgy. It is obligatory to adhere to the rules established by the Chaldean Synod concerning our Eastern, and more authentic, identity. The celebrating priest must understand that the rites are prayer, not just a rigid and monotonous practice; that is, he who prays must live the ritual. These rites are the celebration of God's presence, the priest and the faithful must discover this and benefit from it in theological depth. This is why the readings, ornaments, hymns, music, prayers, homilies must be prepared, as was indicated by the Synod. With the above in mind, I would like to direct your attention to the need to encourage our priests serving in the countries of the diaspora so that, as far as they are able, they will develop relationships with the other Apostolic Churches, especially with our Christian emigrants from Iraq and the countries of the Middle East. 

6. Iraqi Christians, and perhaps also Christians of other nations, will soon disappear if there is no change in thinking and national system. Islamic heritage makes Christians second-class citizens and allows usurpation of their property. There are many examples. We must rewrite the constitution and laws, away from nepotism, favouritism, and build a democratic system based on citizenship! In these difficult times, our mission is to collaborate with our compatriots to create a favourable environment to live in respect for diversity, the right to full citizenship, as was affirmed by Pope Francis in his speeches during his visit to our country (5-8 May 2021), helping our people to open up to hope and arm themselves with faith, to face challenges with the same courage as Christ. 

* Patriarch of Baghdad of the Chaldeans and President of the Iraqi Bishops' Conference



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