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Northern diocese, from persecution; hope

ICC Note: Persecuted Christian leaders gain strength in rare ability to go on a retreat in Iraq .

8/24/07 Iraq (AsiaNews) – Priests in Iraq are a “sign of hope for the persecuted Church”, but also for national reconciliation; this was the theme at the centre of prayers and reflection shared by 18 Chaldean priests and 4 bishops from the North of the country who spent three days from August 20 to 23 gathered at the retreat centre of Komané –Ahmadiya Diocese – for their spiritual exercises. The Dominican priest Nageeb Merkhael led the retreat.

Coordinator Fr.Imad Khochab, gave an account of the three days in an official press release in Arabic. “We focused on the 4 dimensions of the life of a priest – the statement reads – spiritual, intellectual, social and pastoral, in order to renew our image of the priest, of the priest’ service and sacrifice so that he may truly be a sign of hope”. The occasion – continues the statement – allowed us to strengthen our faith and our commitment to our mission despite the difficult circumstances and the sacrifices”.

Among the bishops participating in the retreat was Msgr. Louis Sako, archbishop of Kirkuk , Msgr. Rabban al Qas, from Ahmadiya, Msgr. Petros Hanna Issa Al-Harboli, from Zahko, msgr. Mikha Pola Mandassi, from Alqosh. Speaking to AsiaNews Msgr. Sako said: “For all of us this was a very special moment of prayer and mediation on the situation and our role as a Church”. Among participants there was the shared awareness that: “the Chaldean Church is a persecuted Church, whose strength lies in the power of its faith and its spirit. This is how it conserves its prophetic freedom and its hope”. The archbishop of Kirkuk, had words of admiration for the “courage of young priests who with great personal sacrifice nurture hope and dream of a strong Iraqi Church, which defends human dignity and denounces injustice against the weakest members of society. A Church called to work for peace and reconciliation”.

On the sidelines of the spiritual exercises the 4 bishops decided also made some technical decisions, such as how to adopt the salary system: the diocese will finance the work and travel of priests within and outside of their own parishes, This procedure “frees the priest from material concerns and safeguards his dignity, allowing him to completely dedicate himself to his mission”.

Moreover, in the aftermath of the retreat in Komanè a series of conferences on theological, liturgical and pastoral themes has been planned, so that the priests may “absorb all that is new, putting it to work in their service and unify, as far as possible, the various points of view of the different aspects of the 5 Northern dioceses”.