Kurdistan'S Fr Samir on being a priest during the pandemic
Covid has allowed people to rediscover the value of prayer, the role of the Church and the importance of the pastor in the community. Going beyond online celebrations to "be close" to those in need. The Patriarch, eight bishops and 60 priests gathered in Ankawa for the first spiritual retreat at the time of the coronavirus. The emergency has led to "rediscovering the beauty of sharing".
Ankawa (AsiaNews) - The crisis caused by Covid-19 "has allowed us to rediscover the value of prayer, the role of the Church and the importance of priests and consecrated persons" who must go beyond online celebrations to "stay close to people, in a material and spiritual way," says Fr Samir Youssef, parish priest of Enishke, in the diocese of Amadiya (Iraqi Kurdistan).
The pastor spoke to AsiaNews about the recent retreat in Ankawa, a Christian suburb of Erbil, with the Chaldean patriarch, eight bishops and 60 priests. The annual appointment was cancelled in 2020 because of the pandemic, but "this time we wanted to celebrate by deepening the spirituality and value of the priestly body as a sign of God's beauty".
The spiritual retreat of the Chaldean Church began on 19 July and ends tomorrow. "The difficulties are still visible: four priests were unable to attend because they tested positive for the coronavirus". Among the topics discussed were prayer and the spiritual life, holiness in the difficulties of contemporary society and the role of the pastor in a community affected, wounded and above all "afraid" of the Covid pandemic.
"We all did a test before coming together to see if we were infected. The virus has shown the weakness of the body and, once the emergency is over, the world will never be the same again. Already we can see the struggle to encourage people to return to life, to overcome the fear of illness, death, paralysis' caused by the coronavirus and the measures put in place to counter it, starting with lockdowns, closures, remote teaching, distancing."
The most important element of this spiritual retreat, warns the priest, is that "despite the pandemic we must not be afraid to meet" to discuss, debate and understand "how to be close to the faithful not only online, but by bringing solidarity and trust in a concrete way". Everywhere around us "we see wars, hunger, lack of medicine like in Lebanon, the pandemic" but "through the eye of the heart, as St Ephrem said, we must find beauty".
The Chaldean priest's words are not mere platitudes but born from firsthand experience of teh beauty of sharing in these difficult times. He is one of the beneficiaries of the campaign launched by AsiaNews and the PIME Foundation "Adopt a Christian from Mosul" in the aftermath of the rise of Islamic State (IS, formerly Isis) militiamen in northern Iraq between 2014 and 2015. An initiative that, over the years, has supported thousands of families and continues to bear fruit even today that the jihadist movement has been defeated militarily, although combatant cells are still active on the ground as demonstrated by the attack at the beginning of the week in Baghdad.
We must rediscover the beauty of sharing, of helping each other," emphasises Fr Samir, "as we did with the Christian, Muslim, Yazidi and Sabeans refugees fleeing Mosul and the Nineveh plain. This makes us understand that we are one body and when one part is in difficulty we are all called to help each other. "Christian joy,' he added, 'is not only in receiving, but also and above all in giving. The pandemic has shown the ugly face of humanity, self-interest, selfishness, but it has also revealed a unity of purpose to get out of the crisis".
Fr. Samir confided that he had gone to Erbil for the retreat after spending two years in his villages and in the mountains of Kurdistan: "There is a lot of fear, but we need to work on this". In describing his own community in the diocese of Amadiya, he stigmatises the bombings by the Turkish air force against positions of Kurdish Pkk fighters in the mountains of Kurdistan, which create tension and terror among the inhabitants of the area."
"Ours is a tourist area," he concludes, "many people from Baghdad and the south come to our mountains in search of greenery and refreshment. This creates work for restaurants and hotels, but the attacks are slowing down arrivals and the pandemic has hit an already difficult situation hard. We need help from the central government, but it is not forthcoming, while we, as a Church, try to do what we can, from food to medicine."