POPE FRANCIS ADDRESSES CHALDEAN BISHOPS, SPEAKS OF “HEMORRHAGE OF FAITHFUL” FROM LANDS “DEVASTATED BY HATRED”
The synod on the family that just concluded brought bishops from the universal church to Rome to discuss critical issues and challenges facing the family in contemporary society. Bishops came from far flung corners of the world, including Tonga in the middle of the Pacific to places north and south of the equator to the diocese of Rome whose bishop is Pope Francis.
The Holy Father closed the synod on the family Sunday with a final Mass and homily and on Monday he addressed another synod whose bishops have far more serious problems than some of the ones we have been talking about.
They are in Rome to discuss the very survival of their Church, of their faithful.
Pope Francis, in fact, addressed the synod of Chaldean bishops from around the world as they gather in Rome for five days, relocating to the Eternal City after their planned September 22 synod in Ankawa in northern Iraq had to be postponed. The Pope spoke to the 21 bishops from Chaldean dioceses in Iraq, the Middle East and the diaspora as they gathered in Rome from the United States, Australia and Canada. Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako was already in Rome, having attended the synod on the family.
Ankawa is a suburb of Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region of Iraq. It is a majority Christian town that is housing great numbers of refugees who have fled incredible dangerous situations in Iraqi cities such as Mosul, where ISIS terrorists have taken over.
I know quite a number of the Chaldean bishops and will be meeting several of them tomorow during their early afternoon break. In fact, it was at the Chaldean seminary in Ankawa that I stayed during both of my visits to this land, and it was then Fr. Warda who was the rector during my first visit. I also got to know his friend, Archbishop Amel Nona of Mosul (he is now in Australia with the diaspora), and became acquainted with Archbishop – now Patriarch – Louis Sako.
The Pope’s talk to the bishops Monday brought back so many memories of my two trips to Iraq, the second being to attend the episcopal consecration of my friend Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil. How we became friends is like something out of a movie!
Abp. Warda’s episcopal consecration:
The Holy Father’s address speaks not only to the Iraqi and Chaldean situation but to that of the entire Middle East. Yesterday I gave a few excerpts from that talk: Following is his entire address to the prelates.
Dear Brother Bishops, I welcome you with joy and I thank His Beatitude Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako for his kind words. I take this occasion to reach out, through you, to the faithful and all those dwelling in the beloved lands of Iraq and Syria in this particularly troubled and sensitive moment, with a message of comfort and Christian solidarity. With the approach of the Jubilee Year, may God’s mercy soothe the wounds of war afflicting the heart of your communities, that no one may feel discouragement in this time when the outcry of violence seems to drown out our heartfelt prayers for peace.
Today the situation in your lands of origin is gravely compromised by the fanatical hatred sown by terrorism, which continues to cause a great hemorrhage of faithful who leave the lands of their fathers, where they grew up firmly rooted in the furrow of tradition. This state of affairs clearly undermines the vital Christian presence in that land which witnessed the beginning of the journey of the Patriarch Abraham, heard the voice of the Prophets who called Israel to hope during the Exile, and saw the foundation of the first Churches upon the blood of many martyrs. There too Christians bore witness to the fullness of the Gospel, made their specific contribution to the growth of society over centuries of peaceful coexistence with our Islamic brothers and sisters. Sadly, these are times which are instead marked by countless examples of persecution, and even martyrdom.
The Chaldean Church, which suffers from the war, is also conscious of the needs of the faithful in the diaspora, who are desirous to maintain their solid roots while becoming part of new situations. So I confirm, today more than ever, the complete support and solidarity of the Apostolic See in favour of the common good of the entire Chaldean Church. I pray that Christians will not be forced to abandon Iraq and the Middle East – I think especially of the sons and daughters of your Church, and their rich traditions. I urge you to work tirelessly as builders of unity in all the provinces of Iraq, fostering dialogue and cooperation among all those engaged in public life, and contributing to healing existing divisions while preventing new ones from arising.
Your visit enables me to renew my heartfelt appeal to the international community to adopt every useful strategy aimed at bringing peace to countries terribly devastated by hatred, so that the life-giving breeze of love will once more be felt in places which have always been a crossroads for peoples, cultures and nations. May the peace for which we all hope arise on the horizon of history, so that the grievous tragedies caused by violence may yield to a climate of mutual coexistence.
The Synod which you are celebrating these days in Urbe , is a “journeying together”, a favorable moment of exchange amid the diversities which enrich your fraternal communion under the gaze of Christ, the Good Shepherd. As I had occasion to say in commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops, “Journeying together is an easy concept to put into words, but not so easy to put into practice… Let us never forget this! For the disciples of Jesus, yesterday, today and always, the only authority is the authority of service, the only power is the power of the cross. As the Master tells us: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave” ( Mt 20:25-27). It shall not be so among you : in this expression we touch the heart of the mystery of the Church, and we receive the enlightenment necessary to understand our hierarchical service” (Address for the Fifieth Anniversary of the Synod of Bishops , 17 October 2015).
I ask, then, to take up the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to have among you the mind of Christ (cf. Phil 2:5), acting with mercy, humility, patience and a mutual acceptance which gives rise to communion.
May the work of the Synod reflect a sense of responsibility, participation and service. Keep always before you the image of the Good Shepherd who is concerned for the salvation of his sheep, and is especially concerned for those who have strayed. May you imitate him: zealous in seeking the salus animarum of priests as well as laity, realizing full well that the exercise of communion sometimes demands a genuine kenosis , a self-basement and self-spoliation.
I encourage you to be a father to your priests and all consecrated men and woman, who are your primary collaborators, and, in respect for tradition and canonical norms, to be accepting of them, benevolent and understanding of their needs, discerning ways to help them be ever more aware of the demands of their ministry and service to the faithful. In doing so, you will bridge distances and discern the response to be given to the pressing needs of the Chaldean Church today, in your native lands and in the diaspora. In this way the reflections which emerge from your discussions will be able to provide fruitful solutions to your current needs and points of convergence for resolving liturgical and more general issues.
As I urge you to carry on your pastoral responsibilities with fraternal communion and a missionary spirit, I ask all of you, their pastors, to bring my words of encouragement to the faithful of the Chaldean Church. May they echo on your lips as a caress from the Pope that warms their hearts.
Entrusting the Chaldean Church to the maternal protection of the Virgin Mary, I impart to you, your priests and religious, and all the faithful, my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of hope and consolation in the love of our Merciful God.