Patriarch Sako: Middle East Christians need Rome’s support

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Patriarch Sako: Middle East Christians need Rome’s support

By Anne-Bénédicte Hoffner/ la-croix.com

Nineteen Chaldean bishops met with Pope Francis and several dicasteries during their ad limina visit to the Vatican on Wednesday, February 7. They frankly shared their concerns over the crisis in the Arab-Muslim world, Patriarch Louis-Raphael Sako told “La Croix.”

Anne-Bénédicte Hoffner for "La Croix" interviewed Patriarch Louis-Raphael Sako. The interview follows:

La Croix: Pope Francis held an audience with 19 of your bishops on Feb. 5. It is now just over six months after the fall of Mosul, where the roots of your church are based. What did you tell him?
Patriarch Louis-Raphael Sako: The first thing we said is that Middle Eastern Christians need more support than ever from their Western brothers amid the tragic situation that they are experiencing as a result of ISIS and the violence that has ravaged the region.

We would like Rome to say more about us and show greater support during this difficult period when so many of our faithful have been hunted from their homes and are still living as displaced people in camps in the middle of their own country or as refugees elsewhere.

We also suggested to Francis that there could be a common declaration on the status of Jerusalem that he would sign together with the Eastern Patriarchs.

Muslims would be very appreciative if he became involved on this issue in the wake of the announcement by the United States that it will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The Pope invited us to speak freely and we did so. He listened to us for an hour and a half.

Practically, how could this support from the Latin Church for Eastern Christians be provided? Does it involve financial or diplomatic aid?
Our needs are primarily economic but most importantly of all spiritual and human. I was able to observe that the pope was well informed about our situation and that of the countries where we live, namely Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey.

However, there is a need for more representation of Eastern Catholics at the Curia, not just in the Congregation for Eastern Churches but also in other dicasteries.
Their advice needs to be listened to before any decisions.

The Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, which is headed by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, whom we also met, has only a single member from the Eastern churches — Bishop Khaled Akasheh, who is Jordanian.

Our dialogue experience with the Muslim world is precious because we have lived with them for centuries and we know Muslims very well.

In addition, we need to adapt our liturgy to the mentality and language of the faithful of today. Everything has changed very quickly in Iraq in recent years. Chaldeans are better educated, more urban.

They need to be able to pray in their own Arabic language with a vocabulary that is no longer that of the 5th century. If not, they will join other churches.

Wars and persecutions have led many members of the faithful to emigrate to neighboring countries of Iraq, as well as North America, Europe and Australia.

What problems has the growing significance of the diaspora caused?
We have experienced several periods of crisis in recent years, particularly with the departures of priests and religious without authorization of their superiors. Now those problems are behind us.

Before meeting the pope, the 19 of us bishops met twice and we were able to share together.

In fact, the face of our church has changed greatly. And we spoke about this problem with the Pope.

In Europe, our church now has 70,000 members and we do not have a single diocese, only an apostolic visitor.

The Latins, on the other hand, have a bishop in Baghdad for several dozen families and are free to create a diocese whenever they decide, including on patriarchal territory and without even informing us.

As for us, we have the worst difficulties in creating dioceses.

There must not be “two weights and two measures” in the Catholic Church. The pope said he understands our problem very well.

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 10:39
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