Christian Theology: Displacement, Return and Construction!
Patriarch Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako
The Old Testament presents an exquisite experience about the theology of “displacement – captivity”, return and construction. For instance, I would like to mention prophets Micah, Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah, who strongly expressed the theology of “displacement – captivity”; prophet Ezekiel who dealt with the return and celebration of building and renewal; and some Psalms. Today, we are called to discover the richness of these experiences by reading it carefully with a deep spiritual “faith” in the light of our experience during the “invasion” of Nineveh Plain in August 2014 by the Islamic terrorists (ISIS). Christians suffered from being displaced, having their homes destroyed and living for more than 3.5 years in camps, in addition to facing social, economic, psychological, political and religious challenges. Moreover, and since the liberation of the seized areas in 2017, Iraqi Christians were brave enough to return and start the process of reconstruction, with all its’ complications.
This kind of Christian theology encourages all Churches in the region to cooperate in order to “form” the theology of the displaced and emigrants; the theology of return; and the theology of celebrating the process of construction and renewal, since Christian is a person of hope, rather than a person of frustration, surrender, despair, and escape.
This sort of theology originates from the spirituality of hope that we have to adhere to it. It represents the points of light that should grow and spread. This is a fundamental point for us as “shepherds” to be aware of the importance of encouraging young people, and supporting them with faith, love and compassion. Church is invited always to remember its’ role of prophecy, so as to have a clear vision of its’ mission in such circumstances, and also to recognize the signs of times, read and interpret them, including international solidarity with our suffering, aids and visits ….
Every “human being” who suffers from injustice, persecution, social and economic pressure and terrorism, would certainly ask: Why? same as “the persecuted” Jesus asked, when He was nailed on the Cross: “Eli, eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27/46). The theology of displacement and injustice raises many questions: Why all of this happened? Even though, God who is “love” and is capable of doing everything, does not move? People who ask such questions are not actually denying the existence of God, but are simply talking to Him and this is their prayers!
Displaced people lost everything, but their faith. Therefore, they need to be listened to, accompanied and educated in such a way that helps them, not to lose hope and to believe that they can rebuild their society, regain their enthusiasm, prestige and dignity as well as understanding their important role in communication and survival…
Tertlians (died 220) stated that “the blood of the martyrs is a seed of faith for new Christians“, So, the theology of hope is not new to us, since the history showed that injustice and persecution cannot eradicate Christianity from its’ roots.
This is the theology of the “hidden” presence of God among His people. Every human is able to find the meaning of His existence in such theology, the meaning of his sacred history, which is known as a “Plan of Salvation”. Therefore, we should read the Gospel in a quiet and meditative way, that makes our hearts feel the strength of its’ words.
The life of the Christian is an “onset” of his mind and spirit towards the sacramental mystery, in the footsteps of Jesus. This type of spirit should be nourished by liturgical life, which requires further personal and collective preparation and involvement, to understand the theology of His loving nature “Whoever fails to love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4: 8).
Return of Displaced: Achieving Justice and Theological Meditation
In addition to the values, concepts, plans and programs previously prepared to improve the lives of citizens in order to achieve the “best” and overcome past failures. Continuation is similarly important as well as the development of state institutions that should work hard and serious for the well-being of people, as is taking place all over the world, except in Iraq. Therefore, it is recommended to have voluntarily and sustainable activities to ensure that “such thing” will never happen again in the future.
Returning of the displaced to their homes is a very important humanitarian, social and political issue. At the humanitarian level, we cannot overlook the suffering of the displaced throughout 3.5 years, spent in camps. At the political level, return requires a political consensus between the countries and components of the region, especially between the Central Government and Kurdistan Region Government (KRG), in conditions of no demographic change, because our homes and properties are not for acquisition and/or sale. Additionally, returning of displaced families requires financial resources to complete reconstruction and construction of Nineveh plain towns.
According to Jeremiah (11:25), nostalgia remains an essential part of return theology. In the context of the local Church in the Middle East, as we are preparing to host the 26th conference of the Catholic Patriarchs of the Middle East in Baghdad, we must develop a theology of the “return to ourselves” that the human will be free of evil and hatred. This way, we will be able to promote peace and justice so that each nation can live in harmony with the other on a land where he “finds himself”.
Perhaps it is required now more than any other time to dwell deep into the theology of return, survival and even that of exile and displacement, in order to consolidate the Gospel concepts and its teachings in the East. At the same time, we believe that the role of the universal Church is to provide aids or financial assistance to returnees, so that they can rebuild what the war destroyed aiming to improve and develop their societies.
Example of the Prophet Ezekiel
Ezekiel’s characteristic “rich” personality, reflects the suffering and strength of spiritual testimony and demonstrates the destiny of God’s people. He lived at the fall of Jerusalem era, in 587 BC by Nebuchadnezzar after his first invasion in 597 BC and the evacuation of its’ inhabitants, including Ezekiel. Jerusalem was besieged again in 593 by Nebuchadnezzar, when Jeremiah and King Zedekiah were arrested, temple destroyed and the population evacuated for the second time.
We see Ezekiel (34:11), the emigrant in Babylon, describing and preaching without losing his hope, and the Lord enabled him to see a new vision for the new future. He saw God rising his people as He resurrects the dead giving spirit and life to the dry bones:
“The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he led me out in the spirit of the LORD and set me in the center of the broad valley. It was filled with bones. He made me walk among them in every direction. So many lay on the surface of the valley! How dry they were! He asked me: Son of man, can these bones come back to life? “Lord GOD,” I answered, “you alone know that.” Then he said to me: Prophesy over these bones, and say to them: Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Listen! I will make breath enter you so you may come to life. I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow over you, cover you with skin, and put breath into you so you may come to life. Then you shall know that I am the LORD. I prophesied as I had been commanded. A sound started up, as I was prophesying, rattling like thunder. The bones came together, bone joining to bone” (1/7 – 37).
Ezekiel explained the theological concepts behind ruining, captivity, and renewal. He established the spiritual foundation of the post-return society to live as worthy of dignity, justice, truth and joy.
Yes, today, is the responsibility of our Churches, our Catholic and Orthodox Patriarchates as well as our faithful. It is truly a collective and individual responsibility, and I call upon our bishops and priests to educate people and make them aware of this spirit through their sermons, homilies, writings and even through documenting events and experiences. Finally, I believe that we are privileged to stand at this turning point to proclaim our new history.