Amid a war that has caused most Iraqi Christians to flee their homes, the Chaldean Church has held a two-day meeting to try to breathe new life into pastoral outreach programs to boost the faith of those who remain, reports Crux.
The June 20-21 encounter took place in Erbil, Iraq’s Kurdistan region, where hundreds of thousands of Christians have found shelter after fleeing Mosul and the Niniveh Plain following the advances of ISIS in 2014.
Addressing the clergy gathered, Chaldean Patriarch Raphael Louis Sako said the local Christian community expected “spiritual, liturgical and pastoral” reforms that would meet their current situation, calling for a further inclusion of the laity in diocesan and parish councils.
“These reforms may help them also to continue making history and to bridge the gap with their fellow citizens through enhancing co-operation and coexistence, rather than retreating,” he said.
The scope of the meeting was boosting the “faith and hope” of Chaldeans both in Iraq and those living in diaspora around the world, setting the focus on the gospel teachings for “human, spiritual, and national awakening” in the face of the many challenges and risks the community faces.
According to Patriarch Sako, who published a note on the website of the patriarchate ahead of the encounter, the gathering of Chaldean clergy presented an opportunity to reflect upon Iraq’s “rapid political and sociological changes” in the past decade.
Since the US invasion and the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, the country has seen a dramatic change in its social composition, with minorities such as the various Christian denominations and the Yazidis desperately trying to flee. In 2003, over 1.5 million Christians represented 6 percent of the total population.
A decade later, the number has dropped to an estimated 450,000. Today, most of those left, close to 150,000, are living as internally displaced refugees in Erbil or in precarious conditions in the country’s capital Baghdad.
In his letter the Patriarch also called for a need to “take responsibility” for what is happening in the region, which has been subjected to “looting, devastation, violence and [forced] migration,” affecting “all walks of life.”
Photo: Iraqi counterterrorism forces face off with Islamic State militants in the Nuaimiya neighbourhood of Fallujah, Iraq, on June 1 (AP)