The 26th Conference of the Patriarchs of the East opened yesterday in Baghdad until 30 November. This is the first time that the event is held in Iraq. Its goal is to boost unity among eastern Christians and meet the many challenges that threaten the survival of Christian communities in the various countries of the region, as a result of persecution, extremism and migration.
The most important leaders of the Eastern Churches are present: Maronite Patriarch Card Beshara al-Rahi, Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Youssef Absi, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, the representative of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem Mgr William Hanna Shomali and the host, Chaldean Patriarch Card Louis Raphael Sako who delivered the opening speech.
Here are the salient passages in Card Sako's opening speech, sent for information to AsiaNews:
The convening of the 26th Conference of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East, for the first time in Iraq, has a significant impact on our presence as Christians, in such difficult circumstances, facing the unprecedented challenges of its kind.
Your presence here today, as Leaders and Fathers of ancient Churches, is truly a strong expression of your solidarity and being with us in all that we have been through from, persecution, displacement, abandonment, forced emigration etc. This assembly in Iraq, at this particular time, fills us with hope and encourages families to return and stay in our homeland keeping up our faith, identity, ethics, traditions and language.
At the opening of the Synod of Bishops that was held in Rome (October 3-28, 2018) on "Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment", His Holiness Pope Francis addressed the importance of "may the Synod awaken our hearts!" to be "extremely fruitful for giving rise to hope."
Based on that, let me wish that our gathering be a turning point of "grace and blessing" for Christians and our fellow citizens in this "troubled" East, with a hope for a better future of peace, stability, and prosperous society.
Today, we are called to create a unified Eastern Christian vision that plans strategically, to sustain our existence and our role in this part of the world by: being stronger than the "division"; removing the psychological and historical barriers; and also, by respecting the differences in ideas and opinions, which is very natural. Realizing this unity of our Churches is "required" and crucial, as a response for the call of Jesus Christ (John 17/27) and to help us attain an influential presence in the future, in spite of the "pressing" challenges we are facing, such as emigration and the "religious extremism" which is the most serious problem.
Therefore, this cooperation of all Churches in the region is urged to focus on "highlighting" the theology -- Spirituality of the displaced and the emigrants; the theology of return and the celebration of construction and renewal. Moreover, we together, have to hold onto it, since it represents the "spotlight" of Christian hope that should grow and spread.
This conference is a "vital" message to all Iraqis and Middle East citizens towards eliminating intolerance, endorsing dialogue, spreading the values of peace and citizenship, consolidating the principles of coexistence through recognition, acceptance and respect of privacy, which is almost "missing" in our societies.
In the spirit of such a blessed environment, of true renewal for a better tomorrow, we hope that the new recently formed Iraqi Government give the priority to a "serious practical" plan for community reconciliation; a strategy based on citizenship, law, equality and provision of services for all Iraqis, to live in freedom, dignity and social justice.