Baghdad – “The Eastern Churches need a breath of fresh air”, is how the Iraqi Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, Patriarch of the Chaldean Church, entitled his message for the forthcoming Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (January, 18-25). In the statement he addresses the present and future of the Christian communities in the Middle East and concludes with an urgent appeal to find ways of unity and fraternal communion among Christians in the Middle East in order to ensure the continuity of the Christian presence in the region of the world in which Jesus was born, died and rose again.
In this region – the Patriarch acknowledges – the Christian communities are fatally conditioned by the society in which they live. In the countries of the Middle East with a majority Muslim population, the legislation that regulates social coexistence seems to be forever based on religious teachings and rules, in conflict with the phenomena of modernity. Christians in the Middle East are therefore dependent on many factors, including competition between different church traditions and the intersection of ethnic-national identity and church affiliation.
“In the period between Christmas and New Year,” admits the Iraqi Cardinal “I read the letters of some priests, listened to their sermons, watched their television interviews, and I found the ideas they proposed outdated: What they said seemed to have no relation to the present reality”. The words of so many sermons and church addresses “neither touch the feelings of the recipients, nor nourish their hope, nor give consolation and refreshment”. And if the situation continues like this, “future generations will be without faith”.
The Chaldean Patriarch laments that “the Eastern Catholic Churches have not benefited much from the work of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (1962-1965) nor from the Synod for the East in 2010”.
And given the urgencies of the present, priority must be given to the issue of unity, “especially as we have become a minority in our own countries.” Our strength,” said the Primate of the Chaldean Church (in the photo together with Mar Awa III, Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East), “lies in our harmonious unity, which is a guarantee of our survival and our continuity in spreading our message”.
“The unity of the baptized”, said the Patriarch, “does not mean wiping out the richness of the diverse theological, liturgical and spiritual traditions of the various ecclesial communities. Authentic communion consists in accepting differences and respecting them through mutual humility and fraternal encounter”. Nor should the signing of the Common Christological Declarations, signed by most of the heads of the Eastern Churches, be dismissed as a mere “gesture of courtesy”. The commitment to the same faith in Christ must show ways of unity and help to overcome divisions and distrust.
Introducing a historical reference, the Patriarch incidentally recalls that when Constantinople was under siege, “Byzantine theologians discussed the sex of angels!” Christians today are called to be vigilant. In lands marked by conflict, discrimination, violence that fuels exodus and migration In particular, “Church leaders must overcome petty differences, fanaticism and fear in order to safeguard the Christian presence in the Middle East”.
A history strewn with the testimony of multitudes of martyrs, a true treasure of the Churches which “carry in their bodies the pain of Christ” cannot be extinguished and which, for this reason, also persevere in the hope of their own rebirth.
By Agenzia Fides