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AsiaNews – The future of Iraq ’s Christians and liturgical reform will be high on the agenda of a special Synod of the Chaldean Church , set to be held at the Vatican from 8 to 12 November. The date, at first uncertain, was confirmed today for AsiaNews by Mgr Andraos Abouna, auxiliary to the Chaldean Patriarch in Baghdad . The Chaldean bishops coming from Iraq and the Diaspora will take place behind closed doors. Usually the bishops come together once a year however the urgency of the Iraqi scenario has prompted the holding of a second Synod after the one in Iraq at the beginning of the year.

Fr Philip Najim, a high-ranking official in the patriarchate, said the bishops will discuss not only Iraqi affairs but also reform of the Chaldean liturgy and the law. Interviewed by AsiaNews, Mgr Louis Sako, Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk, also underlined the urgency of other matters, like setting up a “direct line” of the church to make proposals “with courage” to the government, studying the problem of migration and how to counter the “growing proselytism of Evangelical Churches in Iraq”. The latter problem was highlighted also by the Patriarch Emmanuel II Delly. He said the Chaldean Church has always had good relations with evangelical groups in Iraq, however “new evangelicals” who arrived after the war seemed more committed to collecting money from foreign rich donors rather than spreading the Gospel.

Mgr Sako said all the three themes were aspects “which could be tackled only by us Iraqi bishops; our brothers in the Diaspora in America or Europe do not have a profound knowledge of the situation”.

Mgr Sako is perplexed: “The political situation in Iraq is not conducive to our going to Rome to talk in a profitable manner about the future of the Chaldean Church in the country and in the world. The patriarch has told us the order of the day will be the reform of the Chaldean Mass and private law, but these are secondary problems today”.

According to the bishop, “the crucial issue today is the situation facing Christians in Iraq , especially under the new Constitution, which makes conversion from Islam impossible and which unites Chaldeans and Assyrians in a way which is unclear”. The bishop’s denunciation is unequivocal: “Our church does not have a vision for the future, neither for the political future of the country nor from a pastoral viewpoint; everything is improvised, lived by the day.”

The referendum was “an important step” towards democracy but the Constitution is “too confessional” and the Christian community “is not satisfied”. Mgr Sako gave an example: “Christian representatives at talks about the Constitution were all lay people, while Muslims also had clerics there; there was no bishop present, and only a religious leader can understand certain issues.”

The hope of the bishop is that the Synod will tackle these matters: “that we may undertake serious research about the new Constitution and prepare ourselves to ask for new changes. We would need committees to engage in serious research, like the Maronites are doing in Lebanon . Those charged with the task could meet, say, in the Kurdish areas where security is absolute. But perhaps the will is lacking. We must find the courage to speak out and to ask for more rights from the authorities”.

Another problem which Sako proposes submitting for discussion is the “aggressive proselytism of Protestant churches which came to the country with American troops”. He said: “In Baghdad , there are 16 new (churches) and here in Kirkuk , there are two or three; many members of our community are leaving to join them.” It is clearly a must to see “why and what they are searching for”. Continued the bishop: “Methodists and Presbyterians come with the army and they proselytize Catholics and Orthodox: they draw people with money and the promise of visas for migration, they hold celebrations in Arab dialects, while we have not updated our liturgy as yet.” According to Mgr Sako, “the future of the Chaldean Church is here in Iraq ”, however Christians are increasingly migrating from the country. “Our people feel isolated from the rest of the world and they leave the country in search of security: Kurds in the Kurdish areas are well protected; Arabs have the support of neighbouring countries but what about Christians? They are alone.” The bishop gave an example: “If a Christian is kidnapped, the family must somehow find the money to pay the ransom; we do not have support from anywhere. Our only respite comes from Disapora Chaldeans; they collect funds and they are only ones who can put pressure on western countries to protect Christians in Iraq and the Middle East .” Some Christian leaders claim that between 10,000 and 40,000 Christians left Iraq between August and October 2004.

Chaldeans in Iraq number 550,000; another 150,000 are spread across eight dioceses around the world.