Baghdadi Archbishop Raphael Louis Sako has suggested that Iraqi Christians refrain from celebrating Christmas and New Year’s Eve in a “worldly” way, with pomp and abundance, but in solidarity with Iraqi refugees who have been driven out by the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group.
The Chaldean Patriarch said the purpose of the fast would be to implore the Lord for the return of refugees to Mosul and the Nineveh plain. He also asked his faithful to abstain from organizing any “worldly celebration” on Christmas and New Year’s as “a sign of solidarity with their displaced brethren, who are experiencing indescribable suffering.”
Sako, who spent recent days visiting several refugee camps in Kurdistan, spoke of the “heavy and painful … cross” the inmates in the camps are carrying.
Kurdistan is now home to more than 120 thousand Christian refugees who have fled Mosul and the Nineveh plain amid ISIS hostilities.
In his Christmas message, Sako encouraged all the “Chaldean Church’s sons and daughters” to live Advent “with fasting, prayer, reflection, and charity.” He invited them to fast from Monday December 22 until the night of Christmas Eve. They would refrain from touching food or drink until noon, as “in the days of Bautha,” a Chaldean-Aramaic word meaning “supplication.” This refers to the prophet Jonah’s supplication that led to the conversion of the people of Nineveh.
“We fast for the liberation of Mosul and villages of the plain of Nineveh,” Sako said, “so that peace and security will return to these areas, and everyone can come back to their homes, their jobs, and their schools.”
Sako also reminded the faithful of what Christ said: “This kind of demons cannot be expelled except by prayer and fasting.”
“We are sure that at the time of his birth, Christ, who shared our personal history and that of humanity, will listen to our prayers and accept our fasting, and fulfill our hope and our desire to return to our homes and live our lives as they were before,” he said.
The Patriarch ended his message wishing the faithful a Merry Christmas “in our hearts and in our refugee camps,” and he encouraged them once again to “fast and reach out to the needy, visiting them and consoling them.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.