Our wishes for this special year of mercy, as priests – pastors, should lead us to a revival turning point in our lives, in the lifespan of the Chaldean church and in Iraq as a country. We hope that such human, spiritual and national awakening would put the church back on track of the “Good News”, as God wants it for us (now and here). This updating will help us to stand firm, equipped with a clear and radical biblical understanding to face the existing challenges, risks and temptations. As human being, we need a transforming wake up to review and evaluate fearlessly the current situation. A review that would help in supporting our faith, endorsing our hope, and preparing us to assume our responsibilities towards what is happening today in Iraq and the region: all forms of misery, poverty and violence!
The rapid changes in political and social features that have been occurring in Iraq, following the fall of the former regime has affected all aspects of life, including the life of the priests (being a part of this society). This complicated reality raises several fundamental questions about our priestly vocation and the impact of our mission today. Don’t you think that our society needs pastors, who are able to recognize the “signs of the time” like prophets and discover its’ meaning in their personal lives as well as their pastoral work?
Isn’t it the right time to do what the disciples did after Jesus' death and resurrection? By reading the Bible in contemporary and in-depth; understanding the Kerygma with joy and hope in such circumstances of instability and anxiety, so that, our discourse would have impact on us and on our faithful.
The future of the Chaldean Church depends mainly on the quality of the clergy! The leaders of the Chaldean Church have to find a new style of administration and forming / teaching that matches the reality in Iraq and in the diaspora!
To find the appropriate answers for certain questions, we need to stop for a while and meditate attentively / carefully to prepare the “road map” for years to come. Here, I put some of these questions in the hands of our bishops, priests and faithful to reflect and submit suggestions that may enrich the upcoming meeting of 20 to 21 June 2016:
1. How can a priest live his vocation and his mission in such unpredictable circumstances?
2. How can he live the Gospel and witness with joy, hope, loyalty and admiration?
3. Has the homily of the priest influence positively the hearts and thoughts of parishioners in such harsh conditions?
4. Why parishioners are joining evangelical groups?
a. Is it the food basket only or the reason is more serious than that?
b. Is it the content of preaching?
c. Is it the indifference of dealing with them?
5. Can priest live his mission and embodied it in various cultures of people (enculturation)?
6. Can the priest be the same without the love, forgiveness, grace and peace granted by Jesus Christ for Christians and non-Christians?
7. How can the priest do all that without dedicating certain time for his personal prayers in addition to the regular prayers with people?
8. Does he feel that celebration of the sacraments nourishes his heart? Or is he repeating the liturgical words and gestures automatically “as a job” in a way that loses its’ meaning and vitality?
1. What is the nature of the priest’s relationship with the others?
2. How can the priest live a healthy and productive relationship with his bishop? Obedience – moving to another parish as an example, does he hold on his parish as if it is his own kingdom?
3. How can the priest be open to a relationship with the opposite sex and remain faithful to his dedication to Jesus Christ?
4. How can he keep a balanced relationship with possessions and money? "No one can serve two masters: God and money" (Matthew 6:24).
5. How can the priest understand the authority in the Gospel, which is to love, serve and care about the most vulnerable brothers, in particular, (see Jesus' dialogue with Peter in John 21: 15-18), and to be a sign of hope for them? Isn’t true that some priests use their authority for personal benefits? Are they using polite phrases such as “thank you” and “please…” etc.?
6. Is the priest aware of the fact that his priesthood is not a result of personal merit, but is rather the act of “free or generous” love commonly known as “grace”? Does he realize that this call requires a continuous state of humility and Kenosis?
7. How can the priest avoid believing that he is the smartest, the highest and the best? And that his ideas and views are always correct, and are decisions rather than a point of view?
8. Does living with other priests help him to maintain his openness, maturity and spiritual life?
9. Does he practice the “free of charge” sacraments, and be satisfied with his salary only? This kind of service requires careful educational, psychological, cultural and social formation in a sustainable manner, so that the priest can witness to Christ, gather his people, and educate them not by his words only, but by his example!
10. What are the effective ways for such sustainable forming?
11. Does he believe in teamwork and programing? Does he feel the loneliness, emptiness and nervousness? Do people leave immediately by the end of prayers because the priest has no sense of humor?
12. Does the priest realize that he is not everything in the church? Due to the presence of different talents (charismas), according to the grace given to each person for living and practicing his / her call in depth. The priest has to help in discovering and investing on it for the benefit of the parish: "he appointed some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, others to be pastors and teachers. He did this to prepare all God's people for the work of Christian service, in order to build up the body of Christ and so we shall all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God; we shall become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christ's full stature" (Ephesian 4:11).
The priest should focus on the fundamentals; understanding that spirituality is based on attraction towards Christ with fascination and adoration – mystical, even if he is going through difficult times, "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). Since the priest has devoted his life (his heart, body, mind and spirit) to Christ, his mission becomes his identity and his life, "But the things which had been to my gain, the same have I considered a loss, for the sake of Christ" (Philippians 3: 7-15).
Following Jesus is to keep moving ahead consciously and avoid falling in a “trial” of building a warm nest. Also, it is important not to relax for having compensation and alternatives for his consecration!
Beware of double-faced personality; in an interview with an Iraqi priest entitled "immigration or stay"; conducted by the British Guardian correspondent, Giles Fraser about the situation of Christians in Iraq, the priest criticized the Western policy using harsh words and describing them as ISIS, because they welcomed Christian immigrants. The reporter concluded that the priest is deceitful; since he was an immigrant living in Europe for many years with his family, which is OK for him (Halal), but is not allowed (Haram) for others? I recall the words of Pope Francis on 22 December 2014: "The administration of the Catholic Church is suffering from spiritual Alzheimer's disease, and some are infected by being opportunists – bureaucrat and preoccupied with greed!"
To be ideal is something and reality is something else! Let us remember that Jesus himself had blamed his disciples harshly, several times including Peter and the two sons of Zebedee. Therefore, I believe it is healthy to admit that we made mistakes, which are curable, rather than keeping them as accumulated secrets.
In closing, I would like to call on every one of you to think seriously and be prepared for this meeting, which we hope will fill us with strength and consolation to remain honest to our vocation and loyal to Jesus Christ, then no one on this earth can beat us.
NOTE: We suggest that our Bishops, discuss these ideas and others in their monthly meetings with priests at their dioceses in preparation for the meeting of June and also thinking about a spiritual exercise for all the priests by the end of August or early September, this year.