Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, concluded his visit to Iraq with a meeting with the bishops of the country with the entities that form the ROACO (Riunione Opere Aiuto Chiese Orientali”, “Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches”) in Erbil.
The cardinal, in his second trip to Iraq, brought Pope Francis’ blessing to Iraqi Christians the acknowledgement and encouragement of the Authorities for their work in the difficult current context of Iraq in favor of Christians, other minorities and those who suffer as a result of the violence. From 1 to 3 May Cardinal Sandri visited Baghdad where he celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the Chaldean Cathedral of St. Joseph and lunched with refugees assisted by various ecclesial institutions. In Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, he met with the ROACO delegation which is planning aid projects in various areas of pastoral life and in the assistance of refugees.
In his final address to the bishops in Erbil, the cardinal referred to the “signs of light” he had seen in the Churches of Iraq during his visit: “The liturgy, the hymns, the trust in Mary, but above all the splendour of charity, through ordinary works and those linked to the various forms of welcome and pastoral assistance to displaced and persecuted people. I have encountered first-hand the heroic dedication of the many priests who are truly good pastors, who do not flee, who stay beside their flock; I have been moved by the profound communion that goes before any theological discussion, although the latter is necessary, and any other form of ecumenical agreement, when priests of different Christian churches wish well to each other and, along with the laypeople, organize aid activities for displaced persons, or guide educational paths in schools and parishes. It is also good to see the collaboration that the various agencies of the ROACO have offered in the planning and implementation phases for the good of all of you”.
“You are all members of the Synods of the respective patriarchal Churches”, he affirmed, addressing the bishops. “Along with the patriarchs and in communion with them, seek to ensure that the ecclesial body grows with collaboration at every juncture. And I add: especially in this time of difficulty that Iraq is experiencing requires ever deeper communion between the Churches. I hope that this may occur between the Chaldean and Syro-Catholic Churches, which represent the majority, and between these two and the smaller Churches. Let us reject any form of isolation or self-referentiality, and I invite you to recognize and enhance the value of the assembly of Catholic bishops of Iraq and the assembly in which you gather with your brethren in the Oriental Orthodox Churches. Indeed, ensure that the logic of majority and minority that is causing so much harm to the country does not have implications within the confines of the Church, although I am sure that this danger is far removed from reality”.
Cardinal Sandri concluded his address by invoking the protection of Our Lady and of St. Peter for Pope Francis, “always so close to the Christians of the Middle East and to all those who are persecuted”, and for their Beatitudes the Patriarchs Louis Raphael I Sako of the Chaldean Catholic Church, and Ignatius Joseph III Younan of the Syro-Catholic Church.