DAHUK, Iraq — The Chaldean Catholic Church concluded a weeklong synod in Baghdad offering thanks to God for the return of numerous displaced Christians to their hometowns in the Ninevah Plain and for pastoral achievements in their dioceses.
The synod, held Aug. 7-13 at the invitation of Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako, the Chaldean Catholic patriarch, brought together church leaders and participants from Iraq, the United States, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Canada, Australia and Europe to discuss issues vital for the church’s future both in Iraq and among its diaspora.
Patriarchs and other leaders proposed potential candidates for election as new bishops because several Iraqi clergy are nearing retirement age. Chaldean Archbishop Yousif Thomas Mirkis of Kirkuk, Iraq, told Catholic News Service that no names would be made public until approved by the Holy See.
The final statement said a key discussion point focused on the need for “a larger number of well-qualified priests, monks and nuns” to work in Chaldean Catholic churches to “preserve the Eastern identity and culture of each country and its traditions.”
Synod participants decried the suffering experienced by Christians and other Iraqis over the past four years following the Islamic State takeover of Mosul and towns in the Ninevah Plain as well as the deterioration of Iraq’s political, economic and social institutions. They also praised the humanitarian efforts by the churches and Christian organizations to help those displaced to return home and re-establish their lives.
The synod expressed “sincere thanks to all the ecclesiastical institutions and international civil organizations that supported them during their long ordeal.”
Church officials and the international community have expressed growing concern that unless Iraq’s ancient religious minorities are supported in their rebuilding, many will seek a new life elsewhere.
Observers believe that 400,000 to 500,000 Christians now live in Iraq, compared to 1.5 million before the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003.
Chaldeans are the indigenous people of Iraq, whose roots trace back thousands of years.
The synod said that Iraqi Christians still aspire to see the government establish “a strong national civil state that provides them and other citizens equality and a decent living, as well as preserves them in an atmosphere of freedom, democracy and respect for pluralism.”
The religious leaders also expressed support for Cardinal Sako’s multiple efforts to encourage and build national unity in Iraq.
In addition, they urged Iraqi government officials to help the displaced to “rebuild their homes, rehabilitate the infrastructure of their towns and maintain their property” as most of the reconstruction efforts have been at the initiation of the church, international donors and foreign governments. They appealed to the international community to assist them in “a dignified and safe return.”
The synod called for an end to the war and Syria and in other Middle East countries. It also called on the U.S. and Iran to engage in diplomacy to resolve their differences and to avoid punitive measures, saying that “wars and sanctions only result in negative consequences.”
The church leaders offered Muslims warm wishes for the upcoming Eid al-Adha holiday, Aug. 21-25, and expressed a sincere desire for them both to seek a “common life in peace, stability and love.”