Erbil – The Chaldean clergy “has a special mission” of “peace and reconciliation” in Iraq today. The Church remains “an essential point of reference, not in terms of numbers but of substance, because it is part of this land,” said Fr Samir Yousef.

The Chaldean clergyman spoke to AsiaNews at the end of a two-day meeting of the Chaldean Church held on Monday and Tuesday in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, to reflect upon the work of evangelisation and the role of priests in the community.

“I thought it would be an ordinary meeting, but instead it was a moment of great human and spiritual charge,” he explained.

“I met priests I had not seen since seminary days. We renewed our ties after 15 years and laid the bases for a future of unity.”

The Chaldean clergy held its proceedings at the Patriarchal Monastery of St Adday and St Mary, in Ankawa, Erbil’s Christian quarter, guided by the motto ‘Merciful like the Father’.

Participants said that the discussions took place in a fraternal spiritual atmosphere that put everyone at ease.

The focus centred on the spiritual, pastoral, cultural, educational and social challenges priests and bishops face in their daily work. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Patriarchate laid down some points to guide its work.

First, it called for greater collaboration between bishops and priests, who must meet regularly to improve the quality of their work, and this includes an annual retreat. This year’s is set for 19-22 September centred on the theme of ‘The priest, the one who possesses the Divine Mercy’.

Chaldean Church leaders reminded the clergy that “the sacraments cannot be given in return for payment or money” and that priests will be provided for with enough resources according to needs.

In a not so subtle nod to rebel priests and monks, priests were reminded that they are not allowed to move from one diocese to another without the consent of the bishops.

Other points of discussion included the idea of enhancing the role of lay people – of both sexes – in the mission, and setting a committee to monitor expenses and budgets.

“It was a very nice and positive meeting in community terms,” Fr Samir said. As pastor in the diocese of Amadiya (Iraqi Kurdistan), he is responsible for 3,500 Christian, Muslim, and Yazidis families who fled Mosul and Nineveh plain in summer 2014 following the invasion by the Islamic State (IS) group.

“We focused on priestly life in pastoral and spiritual terms, and looked more closely at the situation of Christian refugees. Since we are in a new situation and a new mission, as priests we need to figure out how to give hope to these people.”

As Chaldean Church leaders prepared the meeting, they stressed the need to highlight Pope Francis’ theme of mercy, using some passages from the pope’s writings as a stimulus for reflection.

“We, as priests, cannot show any hard edge,” Fr Samir explained. “Instead, we must show a humane face and heart, and bear witness to the merciful face of Christ as the pope does.”

“We also talked about the positive and negatives aspects of pastoral life,” he added. “This needs to change. We too, as the Chaldean clergy, needed this meeting to talk, open our hearts, and be a tool of hope.”

The common thread is “not to be afraid,” but “continue our service not only to Christians but also to everybody else, including Muslims and Yazidis . . . The Church is for everyone, not only for the baptised.”

After addressing the issue of rebel clergyman, Fr Samir said that a joyful Patriarch Sako “thanked us for staying in Iraq, standing by our people, and carrying the cross. Our mission is here.”

“Priests who want tranquillity have already lost their way even before setting off in the mission. Despite hardships, we are happy and want to be a source of hope for the future.”