Chaldean synod welcomes laity for first time

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A new paragraph has appeared in the invitation received by the bishops of the Chaldean Church to their next synod.
“I encourage each of you to choose one or two laypeople, of either sex, from your diocese to participate in the meetings of the first two days of the 2019 Synod,” wrote Cardinal Louis Sako, the patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans.

“The person chosen must be familiar with ecclesial affairs. This proposal aims to support the participation of people in the life of the Church.”

The Synod will take place from Aug. 3-13 in Baghdad, where the patriarchal headquarters are located, and will begin with a two-day retreat, led by Bishop Youssef Soueif, the Maronite archbishop of Cyprus.

Laypeople from the different dioceses of the Chaldean Church, the Middle East and the diaspora will participate in the work of the synod on Aug. 6-7.

Among the priority topics are the situation of Chaldeans in Iraq and the diaspora, the projects of the Chaldean League in the service of ecclesial solidarity and even the possibility of financing a Chaldean television.

“The lay faithful, men and women, are members and partners of our Church because of their faith and their common priesthood,” explains Cardinal Sako, who is determined to “take advantage of their charisma” in the service of his Church during times of great difficulty in Iraq and Syria.

Among Christians — Chaldean or Syrian-Catholic — who have been driven from their lands and are still displaced in Iraqi Kurdistan, “a third are waiting for a visa for a foreign country, a third are planning to stay in Erbil and a third are reluctant to return” to the former Christian villages of the Nineveh Plains, says a local observer.

The situation in Iraq remains worse than uncertain. In an interview with the American website CNS, Cardinal Sako deplored the fact that Iranian-backed Shia militias, which defeated Islamic State and took control of the villages, are obstructing the free movement of Christians, “especially priests who are unable to reach their churches to celebrate there.”

“We are afraid to hear people say there will be a war, but I hope that this will not be the case and that the Iranians will take into consideration what Iraq has experienced,” said Cardinal Sako, aware that this climate of uncertainty makes Pope Francis’ expected visit to Iraq next year uncertain.

In this difficult context, the cardinal hopes that this first, at a synod, “will encourage some of our communities to seriously consider the role of the laity in their dioceses.”

“The laity understand our society and its changes. They are a great help to us,” he says.

The Christian tradition allows, and even values, this participation.

“In Jesus’ life, there was a group of women around him. And St. Paul’s letters show men and women who participate in evangelization and community life,” says Cardinal Sako.

The Oriental Orthodox Churches traditionally have a “committee of laity” in charge of finance and pastoral care. As for the Chaldean Church — the result of the Assyrian Church — it has long benefited from a lay council, the “si’ita in Syriac.”

The appointment of several bishops in vacant dioceses is planned. The synod will also focus on the canonization of the Chaldean martyrs and the inscription of its saints in the liturgical calendar.