Baghdad -- The Chaldean Patriarch, Card Louis Raphael Sako, issued a pastoral letter on the "originality and authenticity" of the "renewal" of the Chaldean Church, which was sent to AsiaNews for wider circulation.
In it, the prelate notes that the Church must "give answers" to the questions and challenges of modernity, the passage of time and prepare for those "that will come in the future". Hence, "no one should be afraid" to change rites and traditions without losing their original missionary nature.
In his letter, the cardinal warns against fear of "modernity". To those who criticise changes in rituals, customs and traditions, he asks if they " today wear the garments that were once popular in their villages of origin".
Practices and traditions are not the same as "ancestors" and this change is physiological because it is an adaptation "to the new society".
Thus, he goes on to say, we need to "prepare the texts of our liturgy in Arabic, Kurdish, English, French, German", or the other languages of the Diaspora countries where new Chaldean communities have emerged in the last few decades.
In the new millennium, the US invasion of Iraq and the rise of the Islamic State (IS) group contributed to this exodus, which has bled the communities of their members.
The cardinal's letter comes at a time of controversies and divisions in Eastern Churches over liturgical reform, with some stubbornly holding onto the dictates of tradition.
To back his argument, Mgr Sako cites the case of the Malabar Church in India, which translated the various rites from the original "Chaldean-Syriac language, like ours" into Malayam and promoted "a reform" so that rites could be "understood by its believers."
"We are a Church, not a museum called to preserve a certain heritage," the cardinal writes. In fact, for him, there is a danger that the "missionary dimension and the sense of evangelisation" of the Eastern Catholic communities might be lost "because of the geopolitical situation, the pressures and persecutions", which have led to " closed ethnic Churches: Chaldean, Assyrian, Armenian, Syriac, Coptic and Maronite, each with its own geographical and linguistic affiliation".
For the Chaldean primate "if we maintain only the old tradition" we end up "losing our people", as shown by some "traditional" Churches that have been "almost deserted by young people with almost no one participating in the prayers".
Reforming the rites "is the result of academic studies and in-depth pastoral discussions" that sought to maintain "originality and spirituality."
It is important that "We distinguish between essence and contingent, between the divine that remains firm and the human that is variable".
Today Eastern Churches are present "in many countries that have different languages and cultures", in the context of a world that is increasingly a "digital village".
For this reason, "Problems have emerged that are not present in the classical and traditional religious vocabulary, so an evaluation of the ecclesiastical heritage is essential to update it to meet current needs and issues."
Fr Rebwar Basa contributed to this article.