Card Sako tells Chaldean clergy that praying and the Eucharist are the “joyful” testimonies of Christ

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The prelate urges Chaldean bishops and priests to act this way as the gather for their annual retreat in Ankawa from 8 to 12 July. The task, he warns, is not a source of “dignity and prestige”

In his view, it is necessary to operate through “love, service and being a giver,” and revive the missionary commitment “spiritually, socially and ecclesiastically”. Erbil (AsiaNews) – Card Louis Raphael Sako has called on the bishops and priests of Iraq’s Chaldean Church, to celebrate the Eucharist “in its universal dimension” and perform “personal and collective prayers”, heeding Pope Francis’ warning that “without prayer no one can be a disciple of Jesus”. The bishops and priests are currently gathered for their annual spiritual retreat in Ankawa, a Christian district of Erbil (Iraqi Kurdistan), in northern Iraq, from 8 to 12 July In the letter to AsiaNews, the patriarch says that the episcopate is a “special vocation”, not “an honour nor a merit, [or] a reward” stemming from personal ambition. “As a priest, you won’t ‘gain’ dignity and prestige when you become a bishop or a patriarch,” writes the primate, “for the actual dignity is acquired by love, service and being a giver in addition to the enlightenment role you play.” Hence, it is increasingly important to “stress the importance of the priest’s relationship with Christ as a foundation for his relationship with his people.” The cardinal’s call is part of a broader renewal of the Chaldean Church, which has experienced the challenges and violence that have marked Iraq’s recent history. The trials endured by the Church include a crisis of vocations and internal divisions that weakened its unity in the recent past, but are now overcome, as well as the exodus of Christians, including clergy, priests and monks, who disobeyed their bishops and patriarch and sought shelter in safer places in the diaspora like the United States and Australia. The visit to Iraq announced by Pope Francis for next year and which currently being prepared could heal such wounds and breathe new life and bring renewed strength and vigour to the whole community. In view of this, the cardinal notes that the primary duty of every priest is to proclaim God’s Word, adding that “it is a great ‘loss’ to see that, sometimes, consecrated people have no testimonies to share”. For this reason, the prelate urges the clergy to preserve the “spirituality” of devotion that “began to decline, affecting negatively the number of vocations”. “At the same time, we should not let the spirit of the world (personal ambitions, rumours, social media and western liberal extremist ideas) ruin our trust, relationships and harmony. Our folks are looking for joyful and happy devoted shepherds who understand their reality, not pessimistic and gloomy priests and bishops.” Card Sako goes on to say that the spiritual retreat is a “necessary” step in the quest for “solitude and calm”, so as to get out “of the administrative and routine stuff, to meet with ourselves and with each other, to pray, [. . .] awakening our hearts, maturing and reviving thoughtfully, spiritually, socially and ecclesiastically.” Lastly, the Chaldean primate notes that “for the vocation to be effective [. . .], it requires psychological, spiritual, pastoral and social preparations” as well as “higher education, leadership and fatherly spirit [. . .], willingness to sacrifice and” engage in “teamwork”.