Maintain faith during persecutions, Iraqi bishop advises

Mosul, Iraq, Oct 29, 2013 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Chaldean archbishop of the Iraqi city of Mosul wrote in an open letter to Christians in the West that in the face of religious persecution, Catholics must continue steadfast in the virtue of faith.

Archbishop Amel Shamon Nona of the Chaldean Archeparchy of Mosul arrived at his see in Jan., 2010, and the following day began a series of murders of Christians in the city.

“The faithful left the city to seek refuge in the small towns and villages nearby, or in the monasteries. Since then almost half of the faithful have returned. What can we do for these people? What can one do for those who are living the difficult life of persecution,” Archbishop Nona asked in a letter published Oct. 26 in National Review Online.

“These questions tormented me, forcing me to reflect on the right path to follow so I could fulfill my mission of service. I found the answer in the motto of my episcopate – namely, hope.”

He came to the conclusion that “during a time of crisis and persecution, we must remain full of hope. And so I remained in the city, strengthened in hope, in order to give hope to the many persecuted faithful who likewise continued to live here.”

Mosul's Chaldean archeparchy is supported by Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity which assists suffering Churches in more than 140 countries. This assistance is necessary in Mosul, as facing extreme violence, many Iraqi Christians have fled their country.

Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, Archbishop Nona's predecessor, was murdered in 2008.

In his letter, Archbishop Nona, who is only 45, reflected that even “to remain with the faithful in hope” is only “a crucial start” and by itself “it is not enough.”

“I realized that, above all – in the face of suffering and persecution – a true knowledge of our own faith and the cause of our persecution is of fundamental importance.”

A deepening sense of what it means to follow Christ will strengthen one in persecution, he said, and that the true challenge is “to know that we may be killed at any moment, at home, in the street, at work, and yet despite all this to retain a living and active faith.”

“From the moment when we are waiting for death, under threat from someone who may shoot us at any time, we need to know how to live well. The greatest challenge in facing death because of our faith is to continue to know this faith in such a way as to live it constantly and fully.”

Archbishop Nona emphasized that Christian faith is not a mere theory or abstraction, but the means to finding life's meaning, “its highest expression as revealed by the Incarnation.”

The first thing that Western Christians can do for their Iraqi brethren, he said, is to “make an effort to live out his or her own faith in a more profound manner, embracing the life of faith in daily practice.”

Persecuted Christians, he said “should be a warning – to you who live in freedom – to become better, stronger Christians, and a spur to demonstrating your own faith as you confront the difficulties of your own society.”

The archbishop added that persecuted Christians can be helped by materially and spiritually, including bringing their plight to greater attention and promoting Christian unity.

“The most powerful thing you can do in response to our situation is to rediscover and forge unity –  personally and as a community – and to work for the good of your own societies. They are in great need of the witness of Christians who live out their faith with a strength and joy that can give others the courage of faith.”

Archbishop Nona said that persecuted Christians “are happy, because we have the opportunity to reflect on our choice to be Christians. We are happy because we have the opportunity to make our freedom concrete – by defending with love the one who attacks us with rancor and hatred.”

The Chaldean Catholic Church is based in Baghdad and is in full communion with the Bishop of Rome, and is of the East Syrian rite.

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