To the bishops,
Priests and deacons,
Nuns and monks,
and all daughters and sons of the Chaldean Church
“Grace and peace be yours in abundance” (1 Peter 1:2)
1. On the occasion of one year for electing me a Patriarch, i.e. a Father and Shepherd for the Chaldean Church, I address you dear brothers and sisters with peace, love and respect, and thanks to God and you for all that has been accomplished in one year and ask forgiveness for what has not been done. We thank God in these days for the ordination of new Bishops who are a sign of console, strength and hope at this critical time.
2. Beloved, you are aware of what we have lived and what we live in the mother country, and what our brothers in Syria and Lebanon live today of fear and instability, migration, and political and economic fragile situation. In this disturbing situation, I considered addressing this pastoral letter to all of you, wishing to receive echo in your souls to do all that is good, true and suitable. We are a Church and believers, we are not merely an extension of an event in the history of the past, but we live event now and here with faith and hope. Let us review ourselves before God, and let each one of us search for new ways to contribute to the renaissance of our Church and serving our brothers.
Church is Unity and Communion
3. “The Church, in her most profound truth, is communion with God, intimacy with God, a communion of love with Christ and with the Father in the Holy Spirit, which extends to brotherly communion“, this is what Pope Francis said in his General Audience on Wednesday 30 October 2013, summarizing the meaning of “Communion of Saints” that we believe in when reciting the Creed. The Church is one in essence and this oneness and unity should be reflected in everyday reality, because it gives the grace and strength to live the Gospel and walk together as a team towards The Whole Communion to eternal life. This unity among us will free us from our divisions, internal and external, and take us out from shutting on ourselves due to personal, sectarian and geographic reasons, and bring back into us the values of love, charity, loyalty and sacrifice.
4. The Church is the assembly of believers in Christ – The Savior, has talents and mission and a leadership role. Her presence makes us grow in the right direction, joined one to the other. He who does not live with the Church and in it will impoverish, he will not experience the presence of Christ glorified. Let us learn the lesson from the great Saint Thomas, the Apostle of our Church, who did not discover Christ ‘the Resurrected from the Dead’ until he joined the group of disciples. “The Presence” is at the heart of the Divine Life – The Trinity. No egotism nor arrogance, no tyranny nor exclusion. The warm presence enriches and grows relationships: Love and fellowship, responsibility and service, and steadfastness in difficulties and challenges.
5. The church builds its unity through its faith, love, solidarity, celebrating the Sacraments, apostolic work, and one leadership. The Church is a “communion” in nature because it is a communion ship (Koinonia). Its entity is communion. We, the Chaldeans, use the term شوةفوةا to refer to the fellowship and is the same word for marriage to express its coherent and powerful unity. The local Church fully reflects the universal Church, where a closed Church loses its identity!
The Church of God and Man
6. The word Church (Ecclesia) عدةا means the chosen community that are assembled around the resurrected and glorified Jesus. A community that was founded by Christ, and He invited it to carry His message to the entire world, and celebrates the deliverance of who accept Him with joy. A community that lives by the word of God, and feeds on the body of Christ to become His mystic body by the Holy Spirit; there is no room for political or national aspirations or financial deficiency nor it is a civilian institution (NGO)!
7. The Church is founded on human beings. In nature, it lives in a historical reality, and is influenced by the concepts of culture and customs of its contemporaries. We may never read history and interpret it according to our mentality and our culture and the present frameworks. The church is an entity that is completed by the Holy Spirit in the heart of the baptized believers supporting them to carry the Gospel to the world. The Vatican II says: “That messianic people, although it does not actually include all men, and at times may look like a small flock, is nonetheless a lasting and sure seed of unity, hope and salvation for the whole human race. Established by Christ as a communion of life, charity and truth, it is also used by Him as an instrument for the redemption of all, and is sent forth into the whole world as the light of the world and the salt of the earth” (Lumen Gentium, No. 9). The Church is sent to preach throughout the world, without preaching it loses its identity and vitality! Unfortunately, most of our Eastern Churches had lost “evangelizing” and is closed on it, i.e., the small herd.
Our Chaldean Church
8. Our Chaldean Church in Iraq and the world has gone through difficult and critical circumstances. In the past years, political, social, cultural and geographical changes have affected our church negatively. Our church was affected by immigration and the absence of centralization, monitoring, activation of the law, and update of liturgy and method of catechism, which produced the case of dispersion and fragmentation and chaos and isolation that tarnished its unity, freshness and radiance. So our Church today is invited to relive its Charisma: Gift of martyrdom during persecution, and steadfast in faith; gift of monastic life to live radically the Gospel, and gift of evangelizing, preaching and enculturation. Isn’t it that our country launched the Christianity to Asia: Tibet, China, India, Afghanistan and the Gulf, being the widest spread of faith in history? This achievement is credited to the cultural, theological, spiritual, and missionary effort of our early fathers. We have to remember them to stay a Universal Church open to all people, languages and nationalities and not locked in a certain ghetto! Our Universal and open Church had chosen a great Patriarch from the Mongols, named Yahbalaha III (1318 AD), whom we must not forget!
Our Church Needs a Pause for Prayer and Review
9. Our Church is invited to pause for prayer and thorough review, to see things in perspective of the Gospel, to walk with honesty and trust in the Lord’s Light and His enlightenment, and the adoption of a realistic and futuristic systematic vision commensurate with the cultural, social, political and geographic developments, renewing its commitment to its mission, and develop its structures and update liturgies that are for the people as Saint John Chrysostom confirms (407 AD), and humbly serve all people without distinction. Our Church is invited to rebuild what was destroyed and distorted, gather the scattered, and brings back the immigrants. Our Church is invited to deepen the unity and consolidate the communion by orienting its faith and mission to the Gospel, and Christ the Core: “He must grow greater, I must grow less” (John 3:30). In management, it should turn to the Centralized Fatherhood where its power is. We are one church, not a group of crossed and isolated churches. Dioceses and parishes, at homeland and in diaspora, are all associated with the Patriarchate, although some churches in the countries of spread have some attributes that are not inconsistent with its affiliation to the ecclesial patriarchal Canon. The men of the Church should be rooted to the Gospel and be committed to the Catechism of the Church and stay away from formality, pride and prejudice, because otherwise they will lose their open-minded and wide spectrum ecclesial identity. They also need to take care of the upbringing of the lay faithful spiritually and humanitarianly, and make them aware of the existing cultural, social and geographical challenges. Pope John Paul II said: “In the formation that the lay faithful receive from their diocese and parish, especially concerning communion and mission, the help that diverse members of the Church can give to each other is particularly important.” (Apostolic Exhortation, Christi fideles Laici , 1987, No. 61).
10. The Patriarch – the Catholicos is the father of the Chaldean Church, who is ahead of its children, and presides over its Synod, and achieves unity and strengthens the communion, as is the case for the Holy Pope in the whole Church, and the Bishop within his diocese! There are laws governing the roles and relationship in the Church, should be respected scrupulously (see Law 88-90 of the laws of the Eastern Churches). Saint Ignatius of Antioch (107 AD) wrote in his epistles: “You should attune to the bishop, even as its strings to a lyre, and be in blameless unity and partakers of God always” (Ephesians 4:1-2, Trallians 6, Philadelphians 3). Here I would like to recall the promise that a Bishop undertakes before ordination, regarding obedience and respect for the Holy Pope and the Patriarch, “I am Father … elected as a Bishop of the diocese … promise to be honest and obedient to the Holy Roman catholic and Apostolic Church and to the Pope, the successor of St. Peter the Apostle and legitimate successors. I promise to be faithful and obedient to His Beatitude the Patriarch, President of the Chaldean Church and to what is determined by its Holy Synod and by its laws and ancient tradition”. Isn’t this unity that is symbolized by the bishops in the installation of a new Patriarch, when leaving their staff and hold the Patriarch’s? There are some who promote that the Canon law has demobilized of the Patriarch and of the permanent Synod their judiciary, this is inaccurate.. At a meeting of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East with Pope Francis last November on plenary meeting of the congregation of the Eastern Churches, the Patriarchs called for more rights!
11. Unfortunately, we sometimes are like the apostles before the start of evangelism: Some ponder over the old methods and refusing to adapt to the new realities and the sensitivities of believers and their culture today, others want renewal and change being the norm of life, and some closes his mind towards national or tribal side forgetting the Ecumenical dimension or are interested in the financial side. In any case we should know how to deal with this reality and direct our whole activity towards Christ and build our path to follow Him radically, as He is the first and the last assurance of our salvation.
12. We are one Church not churches separated planted here and there, we are one church, i.e. one family, having no choice for us but “Unity”, which is the biggest challenge to the renaissance of our Church. Unity intersects with the mentality of the village or intellectual or nepotism or regionalism or non-responsible criticism clusters, Jesus said: “Anyone who is not with me is against me, and anyone who does not gather in with me throws away” (Matthew 12:30). We have to get out of these narrow interactions that do not serve anyone! Unity does not mean uniformity, and is not incompatible with the diversity, plurality and difference of opinion. This is a sacred right. Diversity is a great richness for the community, the Church and the motive for movement and activity provided it is in good faith and profound love, lest lead to discord and disunity thus committing serious sin! Let us put before our eyes Jesus’ prayer: “May they all be one, just as, Father, you are in me and I am in you, so that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me” (John 17:21). This prayer should be our daily prayer, and a work agenda and a roadmap. Unity is the only hope for our future! In it lies the salvation and vitality of our Church!
13. We thank God that we have today a new Pope named Francis: “He came as a witness, to bear witness to the light, so that everyone might believe through him” (John 1:7). An open Pope and renewing, simple and modest, and close to all, always smiles, and welcomes others with warmth of a father, sees things with prophetic eyes, and tries to give the church a spiritual whiff that brings back its zenith and flair. There are also bishops, who are real shepherds, and their initiatives are eye catching, and there are priests and monks and nuns living the Gospel radically, out of the light and clerical mentality. Also, we have great lay people, generous and faithful to the Gospel and to their fellow brothers. These are lifting our heads and our pride, we are encouraged to see a new turn of the Chaldean Church, returning to its line and plan on authenticity, unity, and renewal and openness to the Holy Spirit. Accordingly, historic responsibility lies on each of us to contribute to creating a favorable climate for the achievement of this dynamic biblical line, and to express it in our difficult and complex circumstances.
The Laity: Hope of the Church
14. Lay men and women have the same dignity as children of God, and full rights in the Church. They are real partners not spectators or numbers without an identity, their talents, their skills and their services have a renewal force with hope and future. So we encourage them to participate in the life of the Church and public life, the real and effective participation: “The Second Vatican Council speaks of the ministries and charismas as the gifts of the Holy Spirit which are given for the building up of the Body of Christ and for its mission of salvation in the world. Indeed, the Church is directed and guided by the Holy Spirit, who lavishes diverse hierarchical and charismatic gifts on all the baptized, calling them to be, each in an individual way, active and co-responsible.” (Apostolic Exhortation, Christi fideles Laici, No. 21). As well as the Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in Medio Oriente confirms: “Through Baptism, the lay faithful are fully incorporated into the Body of Christ and associated with the mission of the universal Church. Their participation in the life and internal activities of the Church is the perennial spiritual source enabling them to reach beyond the confines of ecclesial structures. As apostles in the world, they translate the Gospel, the doctrine and social teaching of the Church into concrete actions.” (No. 55). So with joy and satisfaction we would like to develop their participation and look forward to their presentations and proposals, having continuous communication with them regardless of distance. The faithful laity, who has feeling, thinking and knowledge, has a wide area of work within the cultural, social, economic, political and national security fields. The Church remains a spiritual reference and guidelines supporting these activities without being involved!
15. Here we must point out the new elections in Iraq, calling for laity to active participation in the elections, to have attendance and influential role! We need people with a history, thought, weight and the ability to serve the nation and the society in General and the Christian component in particular. We have great hope in the next election.
Emigration, the Greatest Challenge
16. Emigration is the biggest challenge for our Church. And its bleeding continues and threatens our historical existence. The remaining Christians in the country are from the middle class and the poor, and on this occasion we assure them of our love and our quest to keep them and stay with them until the end. We encourage them to continue their careers, and do their best so that their difficulties and suffering be a sign of hope and peace for their brothers at home.
The Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in Medio Oriente says: “The Pastors of the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris realize with regret and concern that the numbers of their faithful are dwindling in the traditional Patriarchal territories, and for some time now they have had to develop a plan of pastoral care for emigrants. I am certain that they are doing all in their power to exhort the faithful to continue to hope, not to leave their homelands and not to sell their possessions. I ask them to continue to show affection for their priests and faithful in the diaspora, and I encourage them to stay in close contact with their families and Churches and above all to remain steadfast in their faith in God through their religious identity, built as it is upon venerable spiritual traditions.” (No. 32).
On this occasion, I ask our eparchies in the countries of spread to discourage emigration, rather provide moral and financial support to the persistent people here to improve their situation through investments and development of projects in the region to create jobs for themselves and their neighbors.
17. Cooperation between our various churches is essential for more effective, powerful and influential service in our societies. In order to advance in the understanding and approach each other, we have to be frank and to ‘abandon our ego’ (kenosis), and to be daring and learn the lessons from history that divided and weakened us. Unity is Jesus’ request and necessity for our survival and our life in our country and in the Middle East. Unity is a concrete expression of the credibility of our faith, love and testimony. So let’s do a practical and realistic steps as a reformulation of the doctrines of faith and spirituality in a language understood for Christians and Muslims, giving the words clear meaning, look for a clear line of Middle Eastern pastoral in bringing up our children and young people into correct and deep Christian life, and organizing our activities and institutions. We should not in isolation as if we are impersonalized historical groups! We should not think that our legal communion with Rome is an obstacle, it’s never an obstacle. Rome has a special talent in presiding on the communion of love as Ignatius of Antioch said, and in service as Pope Francis said. We have great trust in our new Pope in renewing exercising these talents, and helping the Apostolic Eastern Churches to serve faith and love (charity) in order to pave at least to communion!
As for the Assyrian Church of the East and the old Eastern Church, the Chaldean Church renews its invitation to the unity and expresses its intention to continue to reach this holy aim for which Jesus prayed.
Dialogue with the Muslim Brothers
18. The Christian-Muslim dialogue is based on love of God and love of neighbor. Convergence, dialogue and mutual respect is a foundation for peace and cooperation between individuals and religious communities for the common good and the stability of the country and people. The above mentioned Apostolic Exhortation says: “The Church’s universal nature and vocation require that she engage in dialogue with the members of other religions. In the Middle East this dialogue is based on the spiritual and historical bonds uniting Christians to Jews and Muslims. It is a dialogue which is not primarily dictated by pragmatic political or social considerations, but by underlying theological concerns which have to do with faith. Jews, Christians and Muslims alike believe in one God, the Creator of all men and women. May Jews, Christians and Muslims rediscover one of God’s desires that of the unity and harmony of the human family. May Jews, Christians and Muslims find in other believers brothers and sisters to be respected and loved, and in this way, beginning in their own lands, give the beautiful witness of serenity and concord between the children of Abraham. Rather than being exploited in endless conflicts which are unjustifiable for authentic believers, the acknowledgment of one God – if lived with a pure heart – can make a powerful contribution to peace in the region and to respectful coexistence on the part of its peoples.” (No. 19).
19. Christians are part of Iraq’s and Middle East’s structure and of their civilization, associated with their fellow Muslims, Yazidis and Sabians and remain witnesses of love and peace, cooperation and prosperity, regardless of the circumstances and reasons. This is a religious, national, and moral consignment. The existence of Christians is very important for the Arab and Islamic nations because of their openness, loyalty and morals. Christians must find answers for the Muslims’ questions as their fsthers did during the period of the Umayyads and Abbasids. The Church must find a new methodology and new theological language, understandable in Arabic to help Christians and Muslims in understanding our faith and the importance of respect for the religious freedom of every human being and every society as described in the document “Human Dignity” on religious freedom issued by Vatican II. We wish from the moderate voices of Islam, who are the majority, to raise high to promote coexistence and rejection of violence against Christians. In Iraq, we have good fraternal relations with the Muslim religious authorities and many people, and we take care of this relationship and are proud of it.
20. In conclusion I address everybody, having started a new year 2014, encouraging everyone to be distinct in spirit and in truth and keep the faith in their hearts, and reflect it in their daily lives, and to be made aware of the dignity which was bestowed unto them in baptism, and develop their ecclesial awareness through active participation in its unity, communion and mission. “Let anyone who can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches: to those who prove victorious I will give some hidden manna and a white stone, with a new name written on it, known only to the person who receives it” (Revelation 2:17). On this occasion my thoughts goes towards Syria, to its tested church, and express my solidarity and sympathy and my prayers to the Lord to shorten and remove the plight and agony of the Syrians to enjoy security and stability.
The Grace of God be with you and bless you and protect you from all evils, by the intercession of our Mother Virgin Mary and our saints martyrs. Amen.
Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako
31 January 2014
The First Anniversary of My Election as Patriarch of the Chaldean Church