In two separate appeals, the heads of both the Chaldean and Melkite Churches have called on Christians worldwide to observe the fast on Ash Wednesday and to begin their Lenten journey mindful of the plight of persecuted fellow believers in the Middle East.
From Baghdad, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako I wrote:
“The war in Iraq and Syria is taking on apocalyptic dimensions. Without a doubt, we are already facing the largest humanitarian catastrophe since the end of World War II. Once-thriving cities such as Mosul and the villages on the Nineveh plains have been reduced to rubble. Those who could flee, did. Millions of children in refugee camps are waiting for their daily bread, but they thirst for a future; they want schools and a home. They want to return to their homelands, as do their parents and relatives. Aid organizations are tirelessly caring for the refugees. They are buying basic foodstuffs, clothing, drinking water, blankets and medicine.
“We are all very thankful for this help. However, what is most needed is mercy. For this reason I would like to ask you at the beginning of this Lenten period: pray and fast for peace in our country! Pray and fast that God has mercy on us! Pray and fast that we may remain in our homelands; that the refugees may return to their villages and cities. Pray and fast that we may remain in our beloved homeland. So that we may also experience a resurrection from the rubble, an Easter in the land of Abraham.”
Based in Damascus, Melkite Patriarch Gregorios III Laham wrote:
“I would like to extend a heartfelt invitation to you to join us in a day of fasting and prayer, during which we intend to pray together, beseeching God to grant to our country the peace so long desired at last. Day after day our faith is put to the test. We witness the suffering of the children, the agony of their parents; we are surrounded by hatred and death. We desire only to be able to live once more in peace in our beloved homeland.
“We believe firmly that the way of the Cross is necessary in order to reach the glory of the Resurrection. Nonetheless, even the Lord Himself had comforters and helpers on His way to Golgotha—Simeon of Cyrene helped Him to carry the Cross, St. Veronica wiped His face with the sudarium. His most holy Mother and the Apostle John stood beneath the Cross as He stretched out His arms in death. Thus we too may likewise count on the consolation and support of our brothers and sisters, and so we ask you to continue to stay close to us.
“Please fast and pray with us! It is impossible that the Lord will not hear the united prayers and sacrifices of His children. Thank you for everything you have done.”
The Ash Wednesday messages from the Patriarchs were obtained by international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN) www.acnmalta.org (Malta)