We Should Live the Evangelical Austerity in these Difficult Circumstances
Patriarch Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako
In His speech, to the participants at the 91st plenary assembly of aid agencies for the oriental Churches (ROACO) on 22 June 2018, His Holiness Pope Francis stated that: “In the Middle East, there is a sin of incompatibility between life and faith, our sin lies in the existence of some – perhaps not many priests, bishops and monastic institutions, who pretend poverty, but they actually live in luxury, so I hope that these “epuloni rich” whether they are clergy or ordinary Christians to give up some of their (clothes/materials) for the benefit of their underprivileged and vulnerable brothers and sisters”.
Frankly, our Chaldean Church and other Iraqi Churches have lived through its history periods of persecution, asceticism and poverty. For instance, we do not have yet a patriarchate or bishop residence that looks like a palace as we see it in the West, nor we do have cathedrals and basilicas that resemble museums. Our headquarters are simple and our Churches are modest. Until today, we do not even own our patriarchate building, (our present residence is a property of the Mary’s Daughters Congregation and was one of their schools). Currently, the new patriarchate headquarters, has been for seven years under construction. The Government has completed 70% of it so far and unfortunately stopped the work claiming a lack of money. I hope that the building will be modified into a service project for the common good.
We, as a church, have no political authority, wealth or charm, even though we can find few cases of greedy individuals. Historically, until the seventeenth century, our patriarchs and bishops were consecrated monks and their residence used to be called as “Qallaya” i.e. hermitage cell, and we were called “servants” rather than the “prince” of the church. We used to live on people’s donation until 1974, when we started, in Mosul, the monthly salary, for about seven Iraqi dinars only ($21), while today, is one million and one hundred thousand Iraqi dinars ($850). The idea behind that was to “serve” the Church Sacraments for free, which become later on the way to serve people throughout Iraq.
The speech of Pope Francis is warning us, and I strongly agree with him, to remain faithful to the Gospel, and to our priestly vocation, so as to “be guided by the Spirit” (Galatians 5: 16-25). Therefore, we as priests in all of our orders and monastic institutions must share the evangelical austerity in such difficult economic situation with our people, who are suffering from poverty, sickness, unemployment, poor services, not to mention orphans and widows, all of which is an extra burden imposed upon them that ultimately forces them to migrate.
Therefore, we must share their fears and worries, especially at this time and help them to stay at their homeland and have a hope for a better future, by implementing projects that serve them, instead of being busy in creating “investment” projects for the benefit of our church institutions. On the other hand, I must compliment on what the Church has achieved during the displacement “disaster” of Mosul and Nineveh Plains inhabitants and how we contained them responding to their urgent needs, and also by the restoration of their homes to speed up their return.
Finally, I would like to highlight the importance of living “volunteered” austerity, self-denial and free service with joy. So that our witness as Christian would be more effective and expressive. Also, to be a sign of hope, as Pope Francis stated: “This is the core of the spiritual life that must be lived”.