Pastoral Letter on the Occasion of Lent 2021
We are the Church of the Paschal Mystery:
A history of Martyrs and Monks
Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako
Next Sunday, February 14, 2021 (practically Monday, the 15th) begins the period of the great fast in our Chaldean Church. This fasting is an occasion for each of us to rediscover the space of inner freedom in our daily life so that we can move freely, despite our preoccupations and upheavals with the coronavirus pandemic. This Lent ought to be a period of spiritual renewal, reconciliation with ourselves and with others, and a time for fasting, prayer, a meditation on the Word of God, and the service of the poor.
Our priority during Lent and after is to restore God at the center of our lives, and to redirect our faith and life entirely towards the fundamental mystery of “the death and resurrection of Christ.”
During the current difficult times, our paschal faith leads us beyond what is seen. As Saint Paul says: “And our gaze is not attached to what is seen, but to what is unseen; what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor 4:18). The paschal mystery moves us from the darkness of suffering, fragility, and death to the light of the resurrection and life. It fills our hearts with consolation, joy, and strength and moves us forward. “It is a light that we welcome with fervour, that we follow with faith and that we bring to others with love and zeal”, as Pope Francis stated in his Nativity greetings to the Eastern Churches on January 6, 2021, according to the Julian calendar.
Christ experienced pain, fatigue, and death, but he rose from the dead in the end! He wants to enable us to experience in our daily lives the same hope through our participation in his profound paschal mystery, so that we too can rise with him to eternal life.
Our Chaldean Church, “the Church of the East” has not known outer glory. It has never been a state religion, put on a pedestal. Yet, it draws its beauty and richness from its spiritual and liturgical heritage and its fidelity to her faith that reaches the boundaries of martyrdom. The history of our Church is, therefore, that of martyrs and monks.
Our Church today is spread out all over the world: in Iraq – our historic homeland where we are citizens, not foreigners – Iran, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe. In these lands, new cultures and languages confront us and bring new challenges to maintaining our ties with our Mother Church and Homeland. Yet, we can maintain our ties only when we proceed from our relationship with Christ the Head and the Universal Church.
Every Chaldean, wherever he or she may live, must embrace the Chaldean Church as their own identity and home. In the mission of the Church, they ought to find their own calling to preserve our forefathers’ rich spiritual heritage. For this reason, Chaldeans must support each other, as one team, in order to overcome their difficulties and experience the deep joy of being the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ.
As bishops and priests, we have the duty to shepherd the People of God entrusted to our care with complete fidelity and total dedication. We are called to fulfil our obligations by strengthening our faith and preserving its originality. We ought to return to our roots, away from any false heritage and stereotypical ideas. We must awaken the hope in the weary hearts of men through liturgical renewal, preaching, catechesis, and social justice, and answer to the questions people have and their needs if possible. Of course, the Church is not a State.
Therefore, our faith in the Resurrection fills us with joy & wonder, giving us the strength to purify our hearts and come out of our self-confidence, anxieties, and fears, transformed from our painful experiences with life-based in hope, serenity, and peace. The light of Easter inspires us to continue our mission, just as our forefathers have done throughout history. Let us recall what Jesus once said: “Do not be afraid.” For, He will never abandon us, but the light of his Resurrection will overthrow darkness and expand our horizons, through new people we meet and unexpected events we confront. Yet, knowing how to receive all these things requires, on our part, great spiritual and human maturity.
As for our homeland, Iraq, let us fulfil our commitment to shaping its future. Iraqis have recently endured tremendous hardship and pain due to the political, economic, social, and health crisis caused by the coronavirus outbreak. The paschal mystery brings us closer to God and fellow man. From such a perspective, Christians have an important role in strengthening brotherhood, engaging with other citizens to build a modern, democratic, and civilized Iraq that will ensure respect for the law and enforce justice and equality for all, regardless of religious and ethnic affiliation. Iraq must become a State which respects diversity, preserves unity, and moves away from sectarianism.
I ask the Lord to fill your hearts and minds with His Light and to protect our Church and country so that all could enjoy peace, security, and prosperity. May He end the global coronavirus pandemic and heal everyone who has been infected.
We also pray that Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq will be a real sign to strengthen all the Iraq people. May this visit stimulate fraternal solidarity, achieve national reconciliation, peace, and protection for all citizens,
.rights, and dignity.
Translated By Cardinal Sako