Pastoral Letter: THE CHURCH WON’T GROW OLD, LET US PUT ASIDE OUR WORRIES AND NOT BE AFRAID OF RENEWAL!
In the 2019 Season of Church Sanctification
Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako
Beloved daughters and sons of the Chaldean Church around the world “Grace to you and Peace” (1 Thessalonians 1: 1).
As we begin on Sunday, November 3, 2019, the last season of the Chaldean liturgical calendar, I would like to share with you this brief pastoral letter:
The Chaldean liturgical year starts with the Season of Annunciation, and concludes with the Church Sanctification Season. Sanctification, is the theme and the focus of our liturgical year, which is built upon the Economy of Salvation (the Divine Economy) to sanctify the House of God, “hearts of the faithful”, so that they may be holy and worthy of the Divine Holy (as we pray at the Chaldean Mass: (Holy sacrament is suitable for holy ones).
At this particular time of the year, we oftenly sing the popular hymn entitled (Ammar le Aita Aika i.e. where should I build the Church?) in which, the first verse states Jesus’ question to his disciples: where do I have to build the Church? The answer comes in the last verse saying: on Peter, who confessed his faith: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), also, “O Lord, to whom shall we go, and the words of eternal life is with you?” (John 6: 68). Peter also expressed his absolute love for Jesus Christ in (John 21: 15-18), therefore, Jesus declared, “You are the rock and on this rock I will build my Church” (Matthew 16: 18).
It is in this spirit that St. Paul calls upon Ephesians in his epistle: “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3: 17-19).
My beloved, I wish to address the same call to you, especially that you are going through such difficult and disturbing times inside Iraq, and subjected in diaspora to the threat of losing your “identity” in addition to being “dispersed.” My purpose is to remind everyone of you to strive for having Jesus Christ dwell in your hearts and become your everything.
Faith Fills the Heart of a Christian and the Life of the Church
Knowing Jesus Christ is not a theoretical knowledge, or a “rigid” ideology, but a dynamic, loving and mystical knowledge, a close relationship that we personify in the details of our daily life, to enlighten others. This is the path of “discipleship” that the faithful must follow.
In the horizon of Christian life, Jesus wants our heart to be “the temple” the place in which he dwells, to preserve our entire existence. Also, the Church “parish,” a Greek word “Kyriakon,” means specifically for the Lord, is actually the spiritual home that enables us to “know” Jesus Christ and live the “Paschal Mystery.”
This kind of thinking should be a sustainable source of inspiration for the Priest and parishioners that must be transferred into an integrated pastoral project: Through pastoral work of the family, youth, and young people (children). So, the parish need to prioritize this “faith working through love” (Galatians 5: 6), to live the warmth of parenting, sense the need of people by listening to them, and make everyone feel that he or she is part of it, but rather a partner, has a place in the Church. This can be achieved when the door of the pastoral Church remains open, welcoming, listening, and encouraging them to love one another as well as everyone else (John 15:12). Unfortunately, such a project does not seem to be possible to implement in some of our parishes.
The Reality of Suffering, Fidelity, and Martyrdom
On this occasion, I would like to share with you that I am fully occupied and deeply concerned about the crisis that we, as Iraqis, have been through and still experiencing. Also, to let you know that my “personal” wish is to see Christians upholding unto their homeland, promising to support them and keep following up, as always. It is true that we and other Iraqis, have been attacked by terrorists, killed, and many Churches were bombed, as well as the displacement of Christians of Mosul and the Nineveh Plain, where homes were destroyed, and others forced to emigrate seeking security and stability abroad. However, we shouldn’t forget to thank God, and all the donors, who enabled the Church to play its’ role throughout Iraq and abroad, by lending a hand to everyone, standing by them and raising their spirits.
It is true also, that the security situation has improved. However, we are still living in fears, divisions and suffering from wounds caused by religious extremism that are based on adopting traditional concepts and terrorism (e.g. Al-Qaeda and ISIS). On the other hand, Iraqi immigrants in the West are facing “secularism” that has deprived the society of Christian values.
Based on our faith, we believe that war does not last and peace must come back to this part of the world, especially that the west represents an example of 70 years of living in peace, since World War I and II. Therefore, we trust that Change is foreseeable, and we must nurture our sense of belonging to this land (as a mother), pursue our national responsibilities, and contribute with all Iraqi citizens to its recovery in order to achieve peace, stability, freedom, and dignity for all. Our hope is to see a serious response to the protesters’ demand.
We Christians, must understand that our existence here at this particular time, is a call from God to carry out a spiritual, social, and charitable renaissance in the midst of suffering: “in times of honor or disgrace, blame or praise; taken for impostors and yet we are genuine; unknown and yet we are acknowledged; dying, and yet here we are, alive; scourged but not executed; in pain yet always full of joy; poor and yet making many people rich; having nothing, and yet owning everything” (2 Corinthians 6: 8-10).
New Ways to Prosper the Parish
The proper environment for the perpetuation of faith inside us is the parish Church, in which we learn and deepen the principles of our faith through celebration of different forms of liturgy. Here, we face the dilemma of renewing and updating our rituals, even though we have achieved some of that. Still, the road is long and demanding, in terms of relying on people with a sense of liturgical spirituality and competent in the ecclesiastical, linguistic, artistic, educational, and psychological sciences. Also, I should emphasize the importance of openness, abandonment of “Salafists” mentality that sticks to the “old text,” feel proud of it and rejects updating by keeping everything as it was.
Today, we need to realize that we are the Church of incarnation that requires a new spirit, different or appropriate ways and means to express its faith, teaching, and rituals. This is a priority for the Chaldean Patriarchate based on the formal teaching of the Catholic Church and under the guidance of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).
Moreover, renewal is not a “fashion,” as some fundamentalists claimed. In contrary, renewal and updating helps in making our rituals and teaching a living testimony that fills our being, not just practices that look like a show.
The Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (the Gospel of Joy) issued by Pope Francis on 24 October 2013, constitutes a roadmap for the revival of parishes, in order to be rooted in the Gospel and to have Jesus Christ “all in all.” The following are some inspiring ideas:
The joy of the Gospel fills the heart and life of those who encounter Jesus Christ, accept Him and establish an affective relationship with Him, full of peace and joy, despite the difficulties. However, as a clergy and laity we need a sustainable forming, to bear witness for our faith without shame, and pass on to others what we have experienced as Phillips did with Nathanael “Come and see” (John 1:46). Such witness is the greatest challenge for our Churches that are still following the traditional style. Our Church must move from a “home parish” to a parish that goes out, walk to proclaim the Good News and never stop. The word kerygma – means evangelization: “He said to them: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Every Christian is a disciple, and a missionary, as Pope Francis confirmed in his homily of 28 July 2013: “you will experience that the one who evangelizes is evangelized.”
The Church, as a human and divine institution is not free from errors and accumulations, which we should reconsider and learn lessons from it. In order to play our role in the prosperity of the Church, we need to walk all together, the Patriarch, Bishops, Priests, and all those who share responsibility in the Church, based on the fact that Christ is risen and He is the love that God gave to humankind.
- In the 2019 Chaldean Synod—laity, men, women and youth, from different dioceses—participated for the first time in history, to discuss “openly” their role. We were astonished by their zeal for improving the mission of the Church. Therefore, every item in the Synod should be based on a shared ecclesiastical and missionary sense that might be coherent and comprehensive. Additionally, all forms of liturgical service deserve attention and require training, including: deacons, readings, sermons, choir hymns, music, decorations, reception etc. Everything must reflect our joy in the presence of He, who we celebrate (God – Christ), His existence among us and not to feel bored.
- Serving poor with love and care is an expression of our universal brotherhood with no exceptions. Each one of us must find a way to achieve it in his own life, since it is the way to meet with Christ: “I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). The poor are the “mystery of God,” according to John Chrysostom, and a Christian won’t be a Christian unless he shares what he has with others. This kind of service, requires a pastoral commitment and permanent volunteers to solve the problems of the poor, immigrants, abandoned, elderlies and those with psychological problems. Here, I would like to quote Pope Francis: “A fundamental contribution in the field of pastoralism of the family comes from the parish, which is the family of families, where harmony between small groups, various ecclesial associations and movements, is achieved, with a special attention to families, in preparing a more appropriate forming program for priests, deacons, clergy, nuns, catechists and all pastoral activists” (Gospel of Joy EG (202). In this regard, the Chaldean Patriarchate is preparing two conferences: The theme of the Chaldean youth conference is “Our Christian and Chaldean identity”, while the second conference is for lay people to review their role and participation in the life of the Church.
Finally, I would like to remind you that no one is greater than Jesus Christ or the Church, and “love never goes away” (1 Corinthians 13: 8).
Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako