The Apostolic Nuncio to Jordan and Iraq, Monsignor Giorgio Lingua, on early May made a tour in northern Iraq that first led him into the city of Mosul where, accompanied by the Chaldean Archbishop of the city, Monsignor Emil Shimoun Nona, met the Syriac Orthodox bishop of Mosul, Mor Nicodemus Dawood Sharaf and the retired bishop, now a patriarchal counselor, Mor Gregorious Saliba Shamoun. The meeting ended with an ecumenical prayer in the cathedral dedicated to St. Ephrem the Syriac. In Mosul, Mons. Lingua visited also the Chaldean Cathedral of Santa Meskinta, the Chaldean monks’ monastery, various religious communities, the old patriarchal seminary of St. Peter and had a public meeting in the church of Saint Paul crowded with worshippers.
From Mosul Mons. Lingua reached Telkeif, a small village of long Christian tradition where he visited the church of Mart Shmona that belongs to the Assyrian Church of the East, a non-catholic autocephalous church that in Iraq has many faithful, less in any case to those living abroad, and attended the opening ceremony of the liturgical center of the Chaldean Sisters of the Daughters of the Sacred Heart.
In Erbil Mons. Lingua delivered the homily during the Mass celebrated by the Chaldean Archbishop Mons. Bashar M. Warda dedicated to the seventh anniversary of Benedict XVI’s pontificate whose life has been retraced through a multimedia presentation prepared by Father Rayan P. Atto. In Ankawa the Apostolic Nuncio spent a day in the Chaldean seminary of St. Peter and in Alqosh he finally met a group of Chaldean priests.
UNITY IN LOVE AND RESPECT
Mons. Lingua’s short tour in northern emphasizes the importance of the celebration of Pope Benedict XVI’s seventh year of pontificate as a mark of the strong bond of Iraqi church with the papacy but what’s more emphasizes the importance of Christian unity.
Not only Mons. Lingua visited Catholic and non-Catholic churches, but he made of unity the central topic of the homily he delivered during the celebration in honor of the Pope held in Erbil and of the meeting he had with the Chaldean priests in the convent of the Redemptorists in Alqosh.
The position of Mons. Lingua is frank: Christians are "unfortunately" divided and this "gives a negative testimony" as Jesus' prayer was that " that they may all be one so that the world may believe." (Jn 17.21 )
Recalling the various Christian traditions that make up the Iraqi mosaic Mons. Lingua recalled how it is not such diversity that creates division that instead means wealth, but rather "criticism, envy, suspicion" that must be overcome by love and mutual esteem.
The church in Iraq will "bloom again" if all its children will love each other "as Christ loves each one of us" and if with "courage" they will put aside the divisions that are evidence of "weakness".
Even more precise is the call for unity in Mons. Lingua’s address to the Chaldean priests to whom, recalling "the high mission and the great responsibility" given to them by the Church in their being "called and consecrated to represent Christ on earth" the Nuncio recalls that priesthood does not mean power, but service. Being priests is a privilege for Christians, a gift, because everyone is called by Baptism to live like Christ, but only some are chosen by the Church to continue His work in "dispense the sacraments of salvation."
This gift, however, means sacrifice too. The priest must be able to rejoice even in suffering keeping in mind that it hides Christ and therefore "every time we complain of what we have to endure, we complain about Him."
The priest, " man of joy," moreover, "as man chosen to bring God to men and men to God" should be "at any level" "instrument of unity and communion" and must follow some guidelines.
He must first of all reconcile with his bishop, a reconciliation that Mons. Lingua does not hesitate to describe as "difficult", even "heroic " but since being a priest "means to be ready to give one’s own life " and that first of all the priest must know how to give it "for his bishop" it should not weigh that much since "if one is ready to give his life must also be ready to give everything that is not life!"
Reconciliation with the bishops as well with the brethren to be "examples for the flock", and priest as an instrument of reconciliation in the community in all its components: family, parish, society, world.
The figure of the "reconciler" priest is for Mons. Lingua is "necessary today in Iraq" for "the moral reconstruction" of the country.
The reconciliatory process, however, is not only about the relationship between priests and the civil society and the ecclesiastical hierarchy but also, especially in the Iraqi Christian mosaic, about the ecumenical value and "the communion within the Catholic Church."
Recalling the final message of the Special Assembly for the Middle East held in Rome in 2010 Mons. Lingua cites the words of the Synod Fathers who spoke of a "same path" to cover with the Orthodox Churches and the Evangelical Communities "for the sake of Christians" and specifies how "despite the diversity of our churches" only through unity we can "accomplish the mission that God entrusted to all of us. "
For sure, says Mons. Lingua, "we still have a ,long way to cover" but we must be careful not to take shortcuts that do not respect our identities because although, for example, not to share communion as "the culmination of the celebration" with "our Orthodox brothers" is a "suffering" it is necessary "to avoid the false irenism and disregard for the rules of the Church" (Encyclical Ut Unum Sint). The division, it is true, brings sufferings but if "loved and respected it will bear fruits."
If this applies to relations among the sister but different churches it also applies to the "variety of rites within the Catholic Church."
To mix different rites as some priests do in Iraq "is not helpful either to protect one’s own identity neither to grow in communion" because this requires "mutual love through the respect of the other in his diversity" because, points out once again Mons. Lingua, "diversity is wealth, division is poverty."
Love and respect for unity but in the preservation of the identities. A strong call that of Mons. Lingua to the priests who in Iraq live "an exciting challenge" but who should not forget the choice they made to give their life for "God and brethrens" and indeed they must renew it every day.
Baghdadhope publishes Mons. Lingua’s homily (Italian, English and Arabic) delivered during the celebration of the seventh year of Benedict XVI’s pontificate (click here) and his speech to the Chaldean priests gathered in Alqosh (Italian and Arabic) (click here)