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Christians in the Muslim World

The Patriarch Sako to the Christian of Iraq: the particular cannot be opposed to the universal

This is an intelligent and courageous text. These are the two adjectives which spontaneously come to mind reading the letter that Louis Sako, Patriarch of the Chaldeans sent to the clergy of his churches last May in preparation for the Synod celebrated in the following month of June.

Elected leader of the most important Iraqi Christian community on January 31, 2013, the Patriarch Sako announced his program in the three words chosen for his stem: ‘authenticity, unity and renewal’. Follower of the Syrian-oriental tradition (traditionally called ‘Nestorian’) but in communion with Rome the Chaldean Church has 80% of Iraqi Christians. But if in 2003 the year of the fall of Saddam Hussein there were a million Christians, today less than half have remained in the country. The others had to emigrate because of the civil war which with ups and downs Iraq has never been free of. We can add to this the explicit persecution that the Jihadist terrorists carried out with threats, killings and evident attacks. But not all the problems came from the outside because when a minority is being attacked the tendency to lock themselves in is strong. So after the fall of Saddam the Iraqi Christians split according to their ethnic and linguistic origins, going back to anachronistic identity. It is indicative that the constitution of 2005 does not speak of a ‘Christian community’ but of a Chaldean and Assyrian community as if we were dealing with two ethnic realities similar to that of the Turkmens or Curds. From the political point of view this was a suicidal choice which contributed to further weakening a presence badly damaged by emigration.

 

 

Already from 2003 on as archbishop of Kirkuk Mons Sako had opposed the tendency to ‘ethnicize’ the Eastern churches, evoking the paradigm of the first Abbasid period in which the Iraqi Christians had opened to the reality of the Arab conquerors. Although remaining firm in the profession of their faith, and even composing important apologetic works addressed to Muslim, these Christians had given a fundamental contribution to the construction of a super-confessional Humanism first of all in the field of translations of philosophy and sciences from Greek. Following this model Mons. Sako has for years been involved in an Islam Christian dialogue which highlights points in common and shared fields of work without avoiding dogmatic differences.

 

 

This is the background to the letter. The text does not take refuge in invoking the glorious past of the Chaldean Church but it starts with a clear explanation of the serious crisis it is in. A crisis, however, that as soon as was recognized a possible renewal started based on the Vatican Council II and refusing exclusive nationalism. ‘The Chaldean Catholic Church has been and will continue to be open to all nations and languages […]. Today in it there are Syrians, Arabs and Curds: should we “Chaldeanize” them? And what can be said of the Chaldean Muslims?’, Patriarch Sako asks. Animated by an ecumenical passion, first of all where the Syrian oriental church is concerned (Chaldean but not united to Rome), he does not fear to denounce what lacks and he does not give in to the blackmail of ringing the bells every minute to prove that they are ‘Chaldean’. And thus Eastern Christianity takes on a new air showing that fidelity to one’s own tradition and universal tension, continuity with one’s history and openness to the present, can live together in a Catholic dimension which can be reinforced every day.

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