a “breath of fresh air” to unite Christians in the Middle East

Message from the Chaldean primate for the Unity Week that is celebrated from January 18 to 25. The reference to the “minority threatened” by conflicts, violence and migrations. The need for Christian leaders to “overcome non-essential differences.” The “outdated” sermons of some priests and the need to “establish contact with current reality”. The memory of Benedict XVI.

Baghdad () – From being a majority, Christians in the Middle East have become a “minority threatened” by conflicts, discrimination, violence and migration. That is why the leaders of the different religious denominations must “overcome differences that are not essential” and combat “fanaticism and fear” to defend and maintain their “presence” in the region, explained the Chaldean primate, card. Louis Raphael Sako, in a reflection on the week of prayer for Christian unity -scheduled from January 18 to 25- in which he once again insists on the “need” for “a breath of fresh air” for the Eastern churches . In the document, which he sent to for information, the cardinal also underlines the importance of maintaining a “united position” and developing a well-considered and shared project.

This year the theme of the week is “learn to do good, seek justice” (Isaiah 1:17). It is a very timely exhortation, especially now that Russia has launched the war against Ukraine in the heart of Europe and that conflict also affects the Orthodox Churches. That is why the prayer for unity also becomes a prayer for peace, invoked so many times by Pope Francis himself, who on the afternoon of January 25 – the solemnity of the conversion of Saint Paul – will preside over the celebration of Second Vespers in The Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome.

To encourage Christians to stay, writes Patriarch Sako, it is necessary to educate in the commitment to the faith on a personal and social level, but also in political participation “to build true citizenship, social justice and equality.” “Let us reconcile and unite – requests the cardinal – so that the land of our ancestors is not emptied of its original inhabitants”, a land rich in history, in martyrs, and built by Churches that carry “the pain of Christ” engraved on their bodies .

The Iraqi cardinal reviews “all the ropes” that bind Eastern Christians: the difficulty in finding meaning in religious texts and traditions, the fear of modernity, the multiplicity of Churches and the competition between them, the overlap between Church and state, language And he does not spare harsh criticism of the priests after listening to some sermons or reading some interviews on the occasion of Christmas and New Year, which express ideas that seemed “outdated” and incapable of “establishing contact with current reality.” Speeches that “away” young people from churches and that will cause future generations to lose faith.

There was also a place in the reflection to remember the “late Pope Benedict XVI”, regarding “the importance of the relationship between faith and reason” and the “courage” to affirm the truth, to return to the Church “its prophetic role in this tormented East”. Because, he recalls, “the Churches must respond to cultural and social changes and to political and economic pressures” following the example of Christ. That is why the priest must “speak honestly and courageously” about the concerns and aspirations to guarantee everyone “equal civil rights”, protecting freedoms and a dignified life, and making “the light of the Gospel” shine. At the same time, the cardinal warns that it is necessary not to “lock in the past”, obscuring thus the current role of the Church: “There is no true reform -he warns- without the formation of the clergy, without an integral priestly formation, with a solid religious culture […] that allows us to carry out our pastoral mission in the best possible way, especially in these difficult and critical times”.

Countering fanaticism and prioritizing unity are two other essential elements recalled by the Chaldean patriarch to ensure this “breath of fresh air” for Eastern Christians. Unity does not mean erasing the intrinsic differences of the spiritual, cultural, theological, liturgical and musical heritage. Finally, he recalled when the Islamic armies besieged Constantinople while Byzantine theologians discussed the sex of angels and the transformation of Hagia Sophia into a mosque to warn the different realities: “There is no future for us in division, only the “Unity and a common path can guarantee survival. Different churches can adopt a synodal style for cooperation and work, because what unites us is our faith, our land and our future.”

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