Patriarch Sako to the Priests of Baghdad
Prayer, hope and confidence to face challenges, rather than fears, anxiety and stress
In preparation for the Holy Week, the Chaldean Patriarchate Diocese organized an “Easter 2019 Retreat” for the priests of all Baghdad parishes.
Below is His Beatitude Patriarch Sako’s guidance:
It is a great pleasure for us as Clergy to commence our activities of celebrating the Holy Week with Easter retreat. Many thanks for my three Auxiliary Bishops who joined us. Such gathering provides an opportunity for every one of us to have self-revision and to think together of how prayer, hope, confidence and joy, enable us to face current and future challenges, instead of fears, anxiety and stress
Criticism against the Church is nowadays a popular “phenomenon” that some people enjoy practicing it. For instance, some would express dissatisfaction with their priests claiming their incompetence in administrative, pastoral, and spiritual leadership and others are not happy with their Bishops, Patriarch and even the Pope. We advise them to be careful, equitable, and avoid generalizing.
As human beings, we cannot claim perfection because we are weak and naturally make mistakes, but the most important thing is to be humble enough and ask for forgiveness. We hope that everyone has the courage that the Church has in recognizing its’ mistakes! However, these mistakes do not deserve such an outrageous criticism that may affect negatively the relationship between faithful and the Church. Keeping in mind that the Church is still the instrument of God to save people.
The strength of the Church is to proclaim the Good News and admit mistakes frankly when happened rather than hiding them, which is an expression of respect and courage that helps to practice effective means of correction. This is what Pope Francis constantly insists on, and demands that the bishops must do.
There is no fear for the future of the Church, because surely “the powers of death shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). As long as Jesus Christ is its’ founder and His presence in the Church protects it. The establishment of the Church by Jesus Christ makes it a living corpus of believers who worship God “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24), and serve their brethren with love and generosity. This week is a beautiful time to move forward together in our unity and seek peace in our world.
Surely, the Church needs more of good priests, men of prayer, leadership, wisdom, courage, service, and sacrifice, who understand the cultural, social and political changes as well as current challenges, to live their priesthood with dedication, loyalty, creativity and joy, instead of complaint, coldness and boredom.
The Church has succeeded in its’ mission enthusiastically for 2,000 years, through which it went so often against the “mainstream”, deriving its’ power from the grace of the Lord that works through “servants” like us. Therefore, we are called to sanctify the Church, starting with ourselves and working with passion, humility and sincerity to reflect the light of Jesus Christ in our daily service.
We are living in a society of 95% Muslims and we have to find an answer for a daily question, of how can we be witnesses for Jesus’ universal love?
Moreover, the Church is the mother and teacher “Mater et Magister” for people, and should go to them to preach the gospel of joy. The Church respects individual’s freedom and conscience in choosing his/her own faith and avoids proselytism (i.e. To force people convert to Christianity).
The current troubled and complex situation of Iraq and the Levant, reminds me of Jesus Christ repeatedly advises us not to fear. He rebuked the disciples in the midst of the raging sea, by saying: “Why are you fearful, O ye of little faith”? (Matthew 8: 26). Today that Christians in Iraq become “less”, he is encouraging us by saying “Do not be afraid, little flock” (Luke 12: 32).
Here, I would like to ask, how can we read these words as we are about to celebrate Easter? Don’t you think that our fears and anxieties express “a lack” of faith and trust? Do we really believe in Jesus Christ? Do we understand what we pray?
So we should trust Jesus Christ and have hope, but not fear, because hope relies on faith, otherwise “hope” is a meaningless word. We have hope, because God loves us as his children, which is the purpose of incarnation? His love frees us from pessimism and despair, in spite of all difficulties. It is true that we get tired and feel the pain sometimes, but our enthusiasm should not be affected. In addition, the suffering of our Church should not weaken our “attachment” to identity, roots and homeland. Let us remember what the Lord said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12: 9). The mystery of “Easter” is not “simple” it is a very demanding project! Jesus called it “the narrow door” (Matthew 7:13).
The amazing intellectual “poverty” and spiritual decline that we struggle with, in most of our institutions, is probably due to the decrease in the intellectual and spiritual personal effort, in such an ease of access to information, through “social media”. Therefore, I urge you to study in depth and a “critical” sound mind, the spiritual, theological and liturgical tradition of the our Church, analyze and reflect on it to come out with what is good and appropriate for us these days.
My suggestion for this Holy week is to invite you, my beloved, to read the texts of the passion of Jesus Christ and resurrection to understand things better and deeper.
Finally and on this occasion, we renew our trust in Christ, our hope, our communion and our unity, so we can say in one voice: “Christ is risen, Hallelujah”
I entrusted you and our grieving Church to our blessed Mother Mary.