ASIA/IRAQ – Patriarch Sako: the synodal journey initiated by Pope Francis should treasure the experience of the Eastern Churches

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Baghdad – In the journey initiated by Pope Francis to encourage a rediscovery of ecclesial “synodality” throughout the Catholic Church, will be appropriate and convenient “to benefit from the experience of the ancient Eastern Churches”, the ecclesial groups of apostolic origin in which the Synod is configured as a “permanent canonical structure attested since the early centuries”. The appeal, full of suggestions, comes from the Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, Primate of one of the most consistent Eastern Catholic Churches.
In a speech full of historical and theological references and pastoral notes, the Iraqi Cardinal also includes concrete ideas and proposals as a personal contribution to the ecclesial reflection launched in view of the next Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops of the Catholic Church, which in October 2023 will be convened in Rome on the theme “For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission”. Among other things, Patriarch Sako proposes the establishment of a sort of “permanent Synod” for each Continent, made up of a small number of Bishops from the same continental area.
In his contribution, disseminated through the official channels of the Chaldean Patriarchate, the Iraqi Cardinal points out that the rediscovery of synodality does not only touch technical-organizational aspects relating to the management of ecclesial bodies, but draws on the very nature of the Church.
Re-proposing ecclesiological criteria rediscovered by the Second Vatican Council, and alluding to the meaning of the Greek root word “Synod” , Louis Raphael Sako recalls that “the Church by its very nature is synodal”. It does not consist of a mere “complex of dicasterial organisms, but is in the first place “the kingdom of Christ now present in mystery” , the presence of the Risen One among those who believe in Him. Christ is the basis of the Church, he is her leader, he incessantly sustains her and through her he spreads truth and grace over everyone. His presence is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit sent on the day of Pentecost to the nascent Church, that “He equips and directs with hierarchical and charismatic gifts” . John the Evangelist reminds us that “the Spirit […] will guide you to all truth” “. On her journey through history, “the Church develops relationships, participation and communion”, incarnating herself “in the various human and local realities, despite the difficulties. For this reason “the Church cannot remain immobile and crystallized; she must remain free and move like the Spirit that blows “where it wills” , renewing herself and walking. It is moving to see that the Gospel texts show us Christ and the Apostles walking. The Church also walks and does not stop”. Also for this reason – adds the Chaldean Patriarch – “Pope Francis’ invitation is a true sign”, and the Synod of 2023 “could be an opportunity to reflect concretely on pastoral guidelines, theological programs and administrative projects, starting from concrete situations in which the Church lives and works”.
In the journey of history – the Patriarch of the Chaldean Church highlights – the Churches of the East, including those that have never lost or have reaffirmed full communion with the Church of Rome, have preserved and cultivated over time a greater familiarity with the dynamics proper to ecclesial synodality, and with the canonical structures inspired by them. “The Synod of Eastern Churches”, recalls Patriarch Sako “is a permanent canonical structure documented since the early centuries”, and “the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches distinguishes between the permanent Synod of a patriarchal Church and the General Synod of its Bishops”. While the permanent Synod “is composed of the Patriarch and four Bishops appointed for a term of five years “, the General Synod of all the Bishops of the Patriarchal Church “is convened once a year or when there is need”. The Eastern Churches – continues the Primate of the Chaldean Church – carry out the work of the Synod “by virtue of the Patriarch’s jurisdiction-authority over his own Church sui iuris, in which he is Head and Father.
The synod is likewise a sign of the shared responsibility of the Bishops with their own Patriarch”. The Synod strengthens the bonds of the individual dioceses-eparchies “between them and with the Patriarchal See and the See of St. Peter, respecting diversity in unity”. Synodal structures are not only decorative bodies used to distribute titles and satisfy the ambitions of those suffering from the syndrome of “ecclesiastical self-employment”, but they concretely affect the life of ecclesiastical communities, “by promulgating provisions and making decisions for the proper administration of the Church, identifying the appropriate candidates for the episcopate, safeguarding the liturgical heritage of one’s rite, guiding pastoral and educational methods aimed at the good of the faithful and in harmony with cultural and social changes. It is a commitment of “renewal and reform” placed under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit”. Unity – the Iraqi Cardinal remarked – does not mean homologation, and ought to recognize that the world and society are constantly evolving. Also for this reason it is worthwhile to rediscover synodality also as “a distinctive trait of the journey of the whole universal Church. With the successor of Peter”, continues Patriarch Sako “the Church acts collegially, despite the great variety that make up the Catholic Church, precisely in order to establish and form the Christian community with wisdom and care, with particular attention to future generations and faithful to live their faith hic et nunc, spreading love and hope everywhere”. In order to make synodality in the Church more “visible”, the Chaldean Patriarch puts forward two concrete proposals: in analogy to the structure of the “Permanent Synod” configured in the Eastern Churches, Cardinal Sako hopes “that every continent may have a sort of permanent Synod consisting of a small number of Bishops from that geographical area. The Roman Curia”, adds Sako – is a valuable support, but bureaucracy is sometimes exhausting and takes a long time”. At the same time, the Chaldean Patriarch considers it useful “to grant greater authority to the Bishops’ Conferences, so that they can face the demanding challenges to which they are subjected daily”.
All this – concludes the Patriarch, recalling the bond of hierarchical communion with the Bishop of Rome which represents the essential distinctive feature of every authentic Catholic ecclesial experience “can only be useful by acting in harmony with the Holy Father and constantly remembering the bond that unites us with the Successor of Peter”.