Religious diversity should not be divisive, says Iraqi cardinal



ROME – One of Iraq’s leading Catholic prelates says the quest for unity among Christians should not focus on the pursuit of uniformity, but should rather embrace the diversity of the various rites and traditions of Catholicism .

These diverse rites and customs, he said, should not be sources of division, but opportunities to understand and respect the rich diversity of the global Christian community.

Speaking at an event to close the International Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon Luis Raphael Sako said the annual observance is an opportunity for God to both enlighten leaders of various Christian churches and to “soften their hearts for reconciliation”. and the unification of discourses and ideas in the face of the challenges facing the churches of the world and our churches in the Middle East in particular.

The dangers facing Christians in the Middle East, he said, “are a disturbing existence.”

Unity in this context, he said, is essential and must be pursued “in the unseen depths of faith and spirit.”

“The law of our faith is one and our rituals are close, especially in the essence of our celebrations of the seven mysteries”, but this unity “is not complete ecclesiastically, because the form of the churches is different”, did he declare. .

“Their geography is different, their language is different, and so on in terms of their rituals, their traditions, their laws and their leadership,” Sako said, but stressed that “these churches cannot be stripped of their identity”.

What’s important, he said, is that “this beautiful diversity doesn’t turn into disagreement, rivalry and isolation.”

Unity, Sako argued, is not just an administrative pursuit, but has a “theological, spiritual and pastoral dimension”.

For this reason, “it is important to work to crystallize and unify certain theological and doctrinal expressions,” he said, but churches must do so with spiritual unity, “which was the desire of Christ, and it is the desire of every Christian.”

Held from January 18 to 25, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was created in 1908 by Paul Watson, an Anglican priest and co-founder of the Society of the Atonement. The Catholic Church joined the initiative in 1968 and has observed the annual event ever since.

This year’s theme, “We Have Seen the Star in the East, and We Have Come to Worship Him,” was chosen by the Middle East Council of Churches.

This year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity falls nearly a year after Pope Francis’ historic visit to Iraq from March 5-8, 2021, which marked the first time a pope has set foot in the country. , where Christians have long faced discrimination and violence. persecution.

In his own closing vigil for the event, Pope Francis made special mention of Christians persecuted for their faith, saying it is “often the weakest who bring the most important message of salvation. This is what pleased God: to save us not by the power of this world, but by the weakness of the cross.

“Even the smallest and the least significant in the eyes of the world, if they experience the Holy Spirit, if they are animated by the love of God and neighbor, have a message to offer to the whole Christian family,” he said.

Francis also urged Christian leaders to avoid internal and partisan conflict, saying, “every community has a gift to offer to the others. The more we look beyond partisan interests and overcome past legacies in the desire to move toward a common landing place, the more readily we will recognize, welcome, and share these gifts.

Earlier in the day, Pope Francis met with President Barham Saleh of Iraq at the Vatican, where the two discussed the protection of Christian minorities in the country.

In his remarks, Sako said that the pursuit of unity among Christians requires “repentance, renewal and respect, and that each church sees in the face of the other that of one church, and strives to achieve the perfection of communion”.

“We must realize the dimensions of unity and its requirements so that each part feels its content, so that the desire for unity is an essential part of our consciousness of faith and of our personal and ecclesial behavior,” he said. -he declares.

Sako stressed the need to respect each other and cooperate with “trust and sincerity”, especially in the fields of education and pastoral care, as well as in the social sector and in emergency situations.

“From this point of view, a new and in-depth reading of this diverse ecclesiastical heritage is necessary to bring ideas together through an honest and courageous dialogue, with one heart and one evangelical spirit, as the current situation demands”, he said. he declared. .

Sako concluded his remarks by urging the leaders of the various Christian communities in Iraq “to walk together in the footsteps of unity as Christ wishes.”

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen

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