Saturday, April 7, 2012

Fear Not

This news article was reprinted on the back of the bulletin of the Easter Vigil Mass service which I attended on Saturday at the St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church in Suleimaniah. I'm reposting it here because it challenged me. What reason do I have to fear?

» 03/29/2012 17:35
Mgr Sako urges Christians "not to fear" celebrating Easter
by Louis Sako *
For the archbishop of Kirkuk, Iraqi Christians are part of a "Church that suffers intensely". Lent is a time to reflect about the faith and, despite difficulties, open up to the world. The prelate cites a number of acts of solidarity that brought together Christians and Muslims. He urges the faithful to renew through the Gospel their enthusiasm in the faith.

Kirkuk (AsiaNews) - "Fear not" is what Mgr Louis Sako, archbishop of Kirkuk, told Christians in preparation for the upcoming Easter. Iraq's Christians are victims of violence and persecution. In less than a decade, this has reduced the community by half. Still, they are not alone for the entire nation is being torn apart by an unending confessional, political and tribal war.

In a world of big and small sufferings, the archbishop calls for the rediscovery of the Good News to bear witness to the faith without concerns and fears. Bishops and priests are called to perform this task and young people can look up and learn from them.

Here are the reflections Mgr Louis Sako sent to AsiaNews.

Iraq is a country that has been suffering from violence for many years. We Christians are part of a Church that suffers intensely. Over time, Lent has become a time to reflect deeply about our faith, a time not to shut ourselves off from the world, and this despite the critical situation. It is a time to open up to a deep dimension that draws hope for those, especially the younger ones, who face difficulties, and those who lead a life of precariousness and fear. This hope is found in the Lord's words, "Fear not!" This is what the Good News urges us to do, even if we are persecuted in so many ways and languish on the sidelines, something that those who lead a tranquil life or live in luxury cannot fully grasp.

The Good News is meant especially for the very poor, for those who lead an uncertain existence or are not fully free. We recited all of our prayers and performed the Via Crucis in this spirit. We shared what we had with the needy and many young people fasted.

There were many acts of solidarity, among them that of a young man who handed us US$ 2,000 "to help families celebrate Easter". A young woman gave me US$ 1,000 for the disabled, "not only Christians but also Muslims . . . for the whole community." A group of Lebanese priests and nuns are also planning to visit us to celebrate Holy Week. All these acts show solidarity in deeds, not just words.

In Kirkuk, our small presence takes on a deeper meaning for our Muslim brothers. Our witness, in deeds and words, is alive and present. Recently, I met a politician who told me: "Only with you Christians can Iraq go forward and achieve progress."

An Arab tribal leader has asked me to act as a mediator in order to promote dialogue among Kirkuk's various ethnic and political groups, with the Chaldean cathedral as the venue where to meet. "We only trust you," political and tribal leaders say. What more do we need to do to show how important our presence is . . . ?

At a conference on the Arab spring, a young Christian woman from Syria spoke. Her name is Marcelle. "What have you bishops done for the good of the people," she asked me. "Your caution does not help; it does not change the situation. What have you done with the 'Spring of Christ' in which the Good News was announced? We young people are doing more," Marcelle said.

She then began singing in front of us and with us and all the participants, Muslims too. It was beautiful sign to behold, all of us united, reciting a hymn inspired by a psalm. I think perhaps we have lost some of the enthusiasm and radical quality of the Gospel.

Therefore, on this Easter I shall try to help the faithful not to fear, help them to proclaim their 'Yes' to God. I call on everyone to be close to our brothers in thought and prayer, and celebrate the communion, charity, life and love for our fellow man so that violence and fanaticism may stop and everyone live in peace and joy.

"Fear not," I shall tell the faithful during Mass on Easter night.

* Archbishop of Kirkuk

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Growing Up

I have cool sisters.

If you haven’t met them, you should.

One of them just returned from spending a week of her Spring Break with Somali refugees in Minneapolis, and then spent two hours on the phone with me, thinking deeply about how her experience there should affect her view of God.

The other recently cut off two one-foot long pony tails of hair, and told us in an email distributed from Brandon, Wisconsin to Orange City, Iowa; Musselburgh, East Lothian, Scotland; and Suleimaniah, Kurdistan, Iraq that it made her feel grown up. In her own words: I agree it is sad, also my hands, feet, and wrists are bigger than Mom's and I'm only an inch away from being her height (aaahhh! I'm not supposed to be grown up already!) cry. ;)

The third (or rather, first) writes beautiful blog posts. Here’s (her) autobiographical proof: "I am a student, not because I attend institutions of higher learning, but because I live to learn. I worship, because I am not my own. I think, because there is a reason for everything (and so that you know I exist). I love, because I was first loved. I travel, because it's a big world worth exploring." She has the uncanny ability to state succinctly and meaningfully the same information that I require several rambling paragraphs to articulate. This disparity gives me the advantage in writing essays, but I think the tide is in her favor for blog posts. You can thank her for inspiring me to write this, and ask her to give me a few more pointers on terseness.

In October 2009, Michelle, Lydia and I drove eleven hours (one-way) to spend about 52 hours with Anne and Jerusha. Together we perused the Oxford (Mississippi) Public Library Used Book Sale and returned to their mint-green apartment to turn our finds into journals. With an X-Acto knife (Yes, that’s how you spell it. I checked.), a ream of ivory Office Max paper, glue, burgundy thread and a needle, I exscinded my purchase’s 300 pages and converted Russell Baker’s Growing Up into the cover of a new journal. Since my journals chronicle my life—and I’m continually aging—I found its title ironic, yet pleasantly appropriate. (Moreso than the other I fashioned—entitled Indecision—in honor of my habit of ruminating over important choices.)

I didn’t start actually writing in the journal until March 2, 2012, with an entry about the school shooting in which a student killed Jeremiah Small, an American teacher at a Christian school about five minutes from here, in Suleimaniah.

I wouldn’t have guessed Growing Up would begin that way.

The truth is, it didn't. I started in 2009 pasting the tea bag tags inside its first few pages next to scrawled notes:

-Good Earth (“Punctuality is the virtue of the bored.” Evelyn Waugh [1903-1966]): Tues Oct 6 09 Small Group, Sweet & Spicy Tea & Herb Blend

-A yellow Lipton tag: Spiced Chai Flavored Black Tea—11-2-09—11:30 pm, while reading Metaphysics

-Lipton 100% Natural Tea: Tues Nov 10 Honors Lodge with Dr Jeremy Begbie, Duke & Cambridge expert on Theology and the Arts

-Lipton. Tea Can Do That.: Orange & Spice Flavored Black Tea Mon Nov 30 TESOL Project 4 Côte d’Ivoire

-2 Bigelow English Teatimes and their Green Tea counterpart: The Blur that was Dead Week Fall 2009 (aka Metaphysics Paper on Divine Temporality vs. Divine Eternality & Summary Paper of Kantian Ethics and so on) December 6-11, 2009

In the following pages I pasted tickets from my Jterm in Oxford in 2011 and the Ethics Bowl (etc.) nametags I saved until I cleaned out my collection when I graduated last May.

Growing up didn’t begin with moving to the Middle East. Nor did it begin with metaphysical cups of tea or Ethics Bowl case briefs. Its origin is closer to the twelve-year old realization that I was nearly as tall as Mom, and that I looked older after I got my hair cut.

Incidentally, I’m going to get my hair cut this afternoon. My Kurdish friend is taking me to a salon she recommended.

I have never been brave enough to cut off 12 inches of hair at a time, though.