Planning a Practical, and Appropriate Pastoral Roadmap for Iraqi Christians
I am addressing this letter to the Iraqi Chaldean bishops, priests and monks, on the occasion of our annual retreat, 4-7 June 2018, and the upcoming Chaldean Synod, 7-13 August 2018 in Iraq, as well as the Synod of Catholic Bishops, October 2018, in Rome about “youth, faith vocational discernment”.
Since there is a thought and a word behind every action, I chose “Christ is our example and our Hope” as a motto for this project: “Jesus made a tour through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing all kinds of disease and all kinds of illness” (Matthew 9/35).
I hope you read carefully this text and send the proposals to the Patriarchal e-mail ([email protected]) in order to enrich the initiative.
As we all know, the Church expresses the Christian conscience wherever they exist. Therefore, it must play a proactive role in facing, serious changes that have happened and are happening in many areas of the Iraqi society; the emerging challenges; and the violations against Christians. All these factors have affected Christians’ existence and relations, negatively. So, the responsibility of the Church is to define its’ strategy to stand for this motto. Additionally, it is the Church duty to enhance its presence and firmness.
Under such circumstances, the Chaldean Church and other Churches should revive all their energies to reflect on and move forward in a way that surpasses the traditional approach in order to develop a comprehensive and clear vision that represents a complete project for coexisting in peace with others so that to: guarantee Christians’ rights and equality; safeguard their life; protect their heritage, land, language, faith and their traditions. This is the only way to build Christians’ momentum, so as to stay on this land and continue their mission.
The Church should make more thoughtful and systematic efforts to request laws clearly, recognizing Christians as other components, rather than considering them as second class citizens. Especially, that Christians are indigenous people of Iraq, their churches and monasteries are throughout the country before and after the arrival of Muslims from the Arabian Peninsula in 637.
Identify the Plan
Our situation as the remainder of indigenous Iraqis in our homeland, requires a reasonable awareness of our mission, as a Church, and forces us to put a plan or a comprehensive project that includes activities in faith, society, culture, and service, based on modern standards, in addition to a clear and in-depth vision that responds to the accumulated requirements of the current and the upcoming stages. Once we do that, we will be able to arise from the status of dispersion, negligence, sluggishness and migration, in order to restore our role and vitality as salt, yeast and light, as Christ has called us. Therefore, I suggest that on this pastoral plan, we should focus on two entangled and reliant themes: Christian formation and the charity service.
As long as the Church is considered as Mater et Magistra. I hope that through this plan, the young people will receive the attention they deserve, as they have creative talents to be invested properly. Young people, as Pope Francis has repeatedly declared, are the ones who open the door of hope at a time of crisis, and that the Church, which does not dare to open up new ways, is governed by aging. Therefore, the Church must encourage young people to engage in social work and the political field in order to build peace, justice and active participation in the service of people in our societies. Hence, we hope that the Synod of the Catholic Bishops, that will be held in October 2018 in Rome will come up with positive results regarding this concern.
- Christian Formation
Formation is Jesus’ commandment: “Go out to the whole world; proclaim the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16/15).
The church is a “mother and teacher” and the focus of its’ mission should be discipleship. This was confirmed and documented by the Universal Church in the Second Vatican Council and also through the Popes’ letters, which emphasize the importance of educating the faithful to live their faith happily and peacefully, and convey it to their children: “Let the Word of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you. Teach each other…” (Colossians 3/16). I would like to highlight here the importance of benefitting from “social media” that are accessible to the general public and can be harnessed for the purposes of proper formation.
To form the faithful at all their categories, we need new programs that are different from the previous ones. Programs that sound philanthropic, and deals with profound Christianity far from the superficiality and routine.
Faith is a relationship of love and sincerity, not information to be learned by heart. Faith is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, who we love, admire, adore and proceed with joy to tell others about what we have experienced (see the text of Emmaus disciples, Luke 24).
In order for the faithful, to deepen and take roots of their faith in their daily lives, we need a sustainable formation by organizing: courses in Bible, theology, pastoral care; retreat; summer camps; pilgrimage visits to the numerous shrines and monasteries in our country; publishing books and magazines; establishing websites; and opening public libraries in addition to schools, institutes and universities to become spiritual and human enlightening centers.
This sustainable formation takes place through the development of comprehensible programs for catechism: (word and meaning), train an efficient team, and an appropriate environment. Therefore, we need a pastoral center in our parishes (halls, meeting rooms, playgrounds, stadium, art arena media facilities. We will achieve that in Baghdad.
In such formation project, the liturgy has the priority, in order to prepare faithful by providing courses for those who are going to be baptized, having their first communion, getting married, and for families. However, celebrating the mass on Sundays and feasts; as well as the daily morning and evening prayers; and special texts for children, youth and elderlies, are not less important.
Hence, liturgy is the occasion in which we learn our faith and practice it on daily life. It is worth mentioning that we have in Baghdad a “Center for Christian Eastern Studies”, focusing on this formation; and Institute for Deacons Preparations. In addition to the Institute for Christian Education in Baghdad, Basra, Erbil and Dohuk. We also have Babel College for Philosophy and Theology and Catholic University in Erbil.
I would like here to urge all our dioceses to form committees that could be in charge with all these aspects and prepare such important celebrations.
The following are some fundamental questions that we must do our best to answer them:
- Has the Mass been truly prepared to be celebrated as a feast?
- Are the Mass and other “religious rites” considered occasions for prayer and participation so that the life of faithful become a liturgy?
- Have the symbols of our liturgy, their meanings, moves and the beauty of its art been explained and understood? or it is just a routine?
- Do faithful grow in prayer, as individuals, family, and as a community? Do they know how to pray and how to teach their children that?
Thus, we believe it is nice to be concerned about the rituals, but don’t you feel the absence of an essential element in the heart of our Christian life, which is mainly participation of faithful and the highlight of whom we are celebrating for.
Accordingly, I sincerely encourage our priests and deacons to pay attention to these aspects and others, such as organizing special prayers: such as, prayer of the heart, silent prayer, spontaneous prayer, the rosary and other prayers exercised by the confraternities. All this requires a quick movement of renewal, programming and effort. The world is moving forward, and the Church must keep progressing and move to fulfill its mission and education. This is an opportunity that we should not miss.
- Charity Service & Social Work
“In truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25/40).
Our faith is the engine of our service. The Church community is the channel of mercy and the place where we can practice and live our faith that works through love (Galatians 5/6). When the community is alive, we feel the joy of meeting, sharing and the warmth of solidarity. Generally, the sacraments, and the Eucharist (Mass), in particular, assumes dynamism. However, the vitality of this relationship “this sharing” fills us with God “the love and mercy”.
We need to know the Church’s social teaching, especially that Pope Francis calls us frequently to: open the door of our hearts and our Churches to our poor brothers; reveal their suffering; and highlight their issues and their needs, whether they are displaced, orphans, widows, lonely, and elderly people, in order to help them, as Jesus did and the International and local relief services are doing, such as Caritas.
Service required essential characteristics such as openness, welcoming, listening and generosity, knowing that faith and prayers make the heart humble and open. Therefore, it is the duty of our churches to attract people rather than distancing them, since many who are outside the Church have moved away because of those who are within.
If the Church in Iraq was not present to follow up on the needs of the displaced people in Mosul and the towns of Nineveh Plain from the first day of the crisis, we would have lost our land, heritage and identity. Moreover, there is still a long way to go, in terms of supporting these families who wish to remain in their homeland, despite the exceptional circumstances they are going through.
The following are some of their needs:
- Restoring their homes and developing their towns, which have not received the necessary attention for many years.
- Providing adequate conditions to keep their dignity by improving their living conditions and to find effective means for responding to their needs.
- Establishing a training and counseling center for psychosocial support, organize workshops to acquire skills and vocational training, in addition to cultural, health, social, youth and women centers to empower women. It is important to create investments and employment opportunities.
The purpose from all above, is to create a responsible interaction between Church leaders and the faithful in order to consolidate the message of our existence on our land “as Christians and witnesses of faith”. Here I stress the importance of involving the Chaldean League in this pastoral and humanitarian work, since it is considered as a humanitarian, cultural and social institution.
How do we do this?
- Establishing a high committee of academics and active persons to identify and study the needs and challenges to provide solutions appropriate to the environment of each region. The Church cooperates with the committees in all this.
- Forming a Supreme Finance Committee that endeavor to find the necessary funding from the State, churches and charities. Such committee should be composed of professional, impartial and dedicated persons to ensure transparency and accountability.
- Setting up a media center to cover all these different activities and so on to make the voice of Christians around the world heard.
Which Spirituality do we Proceed?
- Prayer: Whenever we think of such projects, we should pray first, as Christ prayed (Luke 6/12), since the light of God will bless our work.
- Inner Unity: “The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul..” (Acts 4/32). Once we put our differences aside, for the common good. we will be stronger together.
- Cooperation of Clergy and Faithful: As long as we are all partners, blessed with different talents, each one of us can contribute in building the whole community, accordingly. “On each one of us God’s favor has been bestowed in whatever wayChrist allotted it” (Ephesians 4/7). There is an urgent need in some of our dioceses to lift the injustice of laypeople to perform their Christian mission, since they have been baptized and gifted with their “Royal” priesthood: “But you are a chosen race, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, a people to be a personal possession ” (1 Peter 2/9). It is also important, to listen to the frequent calls of the Holy See, regarding the support of the so-called women “Charisma” especially for the faithful women to spread the word of God, including the momentum to be given to the women’s orders to carry out their role in the midst of the faithful community, so their contribution would come out as fully and broadly as possible.
- Spirit of Ecumenism, especially with Muslims with whom we have humanitarian, social and national ties. It is the duty of the Church to seek effective partnership with them in many areas, particularly with regard to the defense of equality, social justice and peaceful coexistence, and to stand united against exclusionary hatred speech.
CONCLUSION: I am thinking of organizing an extended seminar, including the dioceses, some priests, laypeople, and representatives of other Churches.