Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, has spoken of a situation of “extreme urgency” in Iraq, and remarked that Church leaders “have the responsibility of educating our faithful lest they yield to a vision of conflict between civilisations or religions.”
Addressing the Permanent Council of the United States Episcopal Conference in Washington D.C. on Tuesday 9 September, the prelate declared that after his trips to Syria in January 2011 and Iraq in December 2012, he “never would have imagined that we would find ourselves in the present situation”.
He added, “Still in the twenty-first century, as if history has taught nothing, we must witness barbarities and atrocities which strike above all the weakest: the elderly, women and children. Along with my preoccupations for the thousands of refugees … I have ever in mind the bishops and priests still in the hands of kidnappers in Syria, and I cannot forget the journalists so brutally killed”.
Cardinal Sandri remarked that, “On the one hand, the action of the Holy Spirit continues to make the Church fertile in every part of the world, manifesting its characteristic maternity. Yet, on the other hand, it must be recognised that the Churches, which gave rise in great part to the diffusion of the Gospel in the Apostolic era, are now shaken at their foundations and threatened in their very existence”. He also referred to the difficulties experienced by the Church in Jerusalem, reiterating his conviction that “a durable peace in the Holy Land would contribute significantly to the stability of the whole Middle East”, also highlighting “the drama of the Church in Antioch”. He emphasised, “If these Churches, the historic mothers of the evangelising mission, are struck at their foundations, we, as their children, cannot be silent. … God chose that part of the world as ‘the cradle of a universal plan of salvation in love’”, adding that “for nearly two thousand years these Christians have kept alive the flame of the first Pentecost in those lands”.
Cardinal Sandri repeated the words of Pope Francis to the members of the Oriental Congregation at the end of their Plenary Session last November: “Every Catholic owes a debt of thanks to the Churches that live in that region. From these Churches we may learn, among other things, the effort of the daily exercise of the spirit of ecumenism and of interreligious dialogue. The geographical, historical and cultural context in which they have lived for centuries has indeed made them natural interlocutors with numerous other Christian confessions and with other religions”.
He thanked the American Episcopal Conference for the “constant and generous attention” shown to the Oriental Churches, especially in relation to efforts to raise the awareness of the political authorities. He also thanked the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) for the work of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, as well as Aid to the Church in Need and Catholic Relief Services, and highlighted the “great hospitality the United States has given over the decades to all of the Eastern Churches in the diaspora”.
He mentioned the situation “of extreme urgency” in Iraq, and remarked that “in dialogue both clarity and fraternal respect are needed. … We have the responsibility of educating our faithful lest they yield to a vision of conflict between civilisations or religions. We must recall that it has taken Catholic theological and biblical reflection centuries to arrive at its present capacity for interpreting our sacred texts without undue fear of violating the depositum fidei”.
He concluded by encouraging those present to follow with attention the interventions of the Holy See in its various modes and the representatives of the Holy See in various international organisations, and to support the role of the United Nations, an “effective forum through which to prevent the repetition of violence and injustice”.