By Doreen Abi Raad | OSV News
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syriac Catholic bishops from around the world met for their annual ordinary synod in Iraq, the first to be held outside Lebanon — where the patriarchal seat is located — in more than 125 years.
The Sept. 10-15 gathering, presided over by Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, took place in the new headquarters of the Archdiocese of Mosul and its dependencies in Qaraqosh, from where Christians were expelled by ISIS in the summer of 2014.
“Without a doubt, convening an ordinary synod of the bishops of our Syriac Catholic Church outside Lebanon and most particularly in Iraq, is an unprecedented historical event not happening in modern times,” Patriarch Younan told OSV News.
“Given that Iraq suffered tremendous atrocities, afflictions, violence and systematic serious uprooting, a synod that brings together all the bishops closer to our communities there will bring consolation, encouragement and witness a spiritual communion with the pains and hopes experienced in the last decades by our brothers and sisters,” Patriarch Younan said.
In a statement at the conclusion of the synod Sept. 15, the bishops said they had focused in particular on what Syriac Catholics are suffering as a result of “difficult conditions, persecution, acts of violence, terrorism, displacement, killing, destruction, and the uprooting of a large number of faithful from the land of their fathers and grandfathers.”
As the faithful increasingly emigrate from their homelands in the Middle East, the bishops warned of “the risk of dissolving and getting lost in the sea of many temptations” in their adoptive countries.
Regarding the countries of expansion — Europe, the Americas and Australia — the Syriac Catholic bishops addressed the spiritual and pastoral challenges “in the midst of waves of secularization and atheism and what threatens the values of family and society.”
They stressed the necessity of supplying the church of the expansion with missionary priests to help believers maintain their faith and authentic Syriac heritage.
Patriarch Younan underscored to OSV News that “in the new de-Christianized environment of Western countries, where Christians of the Middle Eastern countries were forced to flee, there is a very painful experience and challenging situation, especially for the future of their children.”
The patriarch said that “we, pastors of the church, are reassured by the fact that our migrants are now in safe areas, enjoying in the West their religious freedom and human dignity. However, we cannot ignore that the recent flow of migration had a tremendous impact on those who still try to remain in the homeland and see their numbers keep drastically decreasing.”
Patriarch Younan added, “We are also delighted to hear some European bishops acknowledge that Middle Eastern migrants are not ashamed to bear witness to Christ Jesus and courageously maintain fidelity to the teachings of the church, things which, sadly, are disappearing in many regions of Europe.”
Regarding crisis-stricken Lebanon, in the throes of a four-year economic collapse which has thrust more than 80% of the population into poverty, the bishops in their statement denounced the nearly one-year presidential vacuum. Under Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system, the post is held by a Maronite Catholic, but according to AP, the country has been without a president for months because its legislators are “unable to agree on a new head of state.”
The bishops called on Lebanon’s house of representatives “to take the initiative to elect a new president immediately and without delay.”
As for Syria, the bishops addressed the “prolonged suffering,” in particular of Christians, “in light of the continuing unjust siege on the Syrian people and the repercussions of acts of violence and terrorist attacks in several regions of the country.”
They demanded “the lifting of this siege,” and affirmed their continued care for the faithful, serving them amid many challenges, especially “the deteriorating economic situation and the resulting massive migration in search of a decent living,” further worsened by the catastrophic earthquake of February 2023.
In their statement, the bishops said they recalled “the painful events that befell the church in general and the Syriac Catholic Church in particular” in Iraq including the Oct. 31, 2010, massacre during Mass at Our Lady of Deliverance Cathedral in Baghdad in which 48 people were killed, including two young priests, “and the uprooting of our people from Mosul and the Nineveh Plain” by ISIS in the summer of 2014.
The bishops said they are following “with joy, pride and great hope” the process of the call for the beatification of the two young priests and their fellow martyrs of the Baghdad massacre.
They said that holding the synod at the Mosul archdiocesan headquarters in Qaraqosh is “a message of hope and encouragement” to the faithful “to strengthen their steadfastness in their historical land.”
The Syriac Catholic bishops said they “ask the Iraqi government to pay attention to these authentic people and fulfill their legitimate rights in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution.”
Patriarch Younan told OSV News that “despite all that has happened in recent years, Christians in Iraq are recovering from the turmoil, aggression and forced displacement” they experienced.
“The situation in general is improving and the chaos in daily life is slowly disappearing,” he said.
“The government, both local and central, makes efforts to ensure the security, and somehow stability, for all constituents of the nation, including Christians, despite the hardship of life, mostly because of the deteriorating economic situation and the spread of corruption,” the Syriac Catholic patriarch said.
But Patriarch Younan said, “Sadly to say, there are still many challenges facing Christians to return to their home city Mosul. Large areas in this very ancient city, which was the dwelling of Christians for centuries, are still in ruins.”
The patriarch said that “the number of Christians who made a return to the Nineveh Plain, namely in Qaraqosh, which is now the largest Christian presence in Iraq — all Syriac Catholics — is evaluated at over 60%.”
“They are back home and intend to remain rooted in faith and hope, against all odds, to rebuild their home town and convert it into an oasis of peace and tolerance,” Patriarch Younan said.
In their statement, the Syriac Catholic bishops, in conclusion, said they prayed “for the end of wars, epidemics, disasters and crises and the establishment of security and peace in the East and the world.”
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Doreen Abi Raad writes for OSV News from Beirut, Lebanon.