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from issue no. 12 - 2010

The essential thing is prayer

"If the mission of the Church is not rooted in prayer, and is not fed from there, it will never bear fruit, and, like a tree that lacks water, it dries up". Ramzi Garmou, Archbishop of Tehran of the Chaldees and President of the Iranian Bishops' Conference, talks to us

by Ramzi Garmou, Archbishop of Tehran of the Chaldees

Monsignor Ramzi Garmou in the Cathedral of St Joseph in Tehran [© Getty Images]

Monsignor Ramzi Garmou in the Cathedral of St Joseph in Tehran [© Getty Images]

What issues are important for the future of our Churches in the Middle East? During the recent Synod of Bishops, I emphasized two in particular that I now want to repeat.
I first called attention to the risk to our churches of being ethnic and nationalist, of withdrawing into themselves in order to preserve their own culture, language and customs and of losing their sense of mission.
The second point concerned the contemplative and monastic life. It is known that this form of Christian life arose in the East, in Egypt, Mesopotamia, in Persia, and then later passed to the West. In Iran we have had periods in which the monasteries numbered hundreds and hundreds. And if between the 4th and 13th centuries the Eastern Church, that we now call the Assyro-Chaldean, was able to proclaim the Gospel as far as China, Mongolia, India and other countries, it was thanks to the presence of monasteries where the life of prayer was extremely fervent and profound. If the mission of the Church is not rooted in prayer, and is not fed from there, it will never bear fruit, and, like a tree that lacks water, it dries up. Today in our countries in the East we are unfortunately witnessing the disappearance of this form of prayer and Christian life.
In my opinion, the main reason for this painful situation is the weakening of our faith and the preference given to other activities at the expense of prayer. The danger of activism threatens those who carry out pastoral work and leads us to forget the essence of our mission and to dedicate much time to what is secondary. Let us recall the Gospel story of Martha and Mary. It is Jesus Himself who says that Mary, seated at His feet while listening to His words, has chosen the better part, has chosen the essential.
The Gospel shows with force the time that Jesus reserved for prayer. He left the crowds who came to see Him to go and pray in solitude, He spent nights in prayer... Jesus does not ask us to do many things, but to do the essential. Pastoral work and prayer are complementary. Both are necessary for the mission to bear fruit, fruit that remains. I hope that with the help of the Holy Spirit we can restore this form of Christian and ecclesial life in our churches and respond to this very real and urgent need.
The four bishops who form the Iranian Bishops' Conference took part in the Synod. At our next meeting we must try to implement the decisions and guidelines of the Synod, so that the seed sown in the Vatican may grow and bear fruit for the Church of Christ in Iran.
The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran officially recognizes three religious minorities: Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews. We have the freedom to engage in religious activities in our places of worship without being able to witness to our Christian faith publicly. Given that we enjoy a limited freedom, we must do everything for that freedom to serve to enliven and deepen the faith of believers and make them aware of the mission that they have in the country.
The emigration of Christians did not begin today, did not begin with the advent of the Islamic regime, it has a century of history and has escalated in recent years. In my opinion the reasons are numerous. One is economic in nature, as indeed in many countries: the rate of unemployment in Iran is very high, many are without work, without pay and without the ability to meet living expenses. The second is political in nature, linked to the situation of conflict and insecurity that prevails in the countries of this region, and that deepened after the unjust occupation of Iraq by the United States and the threats of the latter against Iran. The third is the Jewish agency stationed in the United States, called HIAS, which for ten years has been engaged in facilitating the departure of Iranian Christians to the United States via Austria. In this way a large number of the faithful have already left Iran and others are about to do so. I do not know why this agency is operating in this way, I do know it's one of the causes of the acceleration of emigration.
With regard to interfaith dialogue, there is the official one between the Holy See and Iran. And several times I have had the opportunity, both in Tehran and in the Vatican, to attend meetings of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue. The importance of those debates has been highlighted by the propositions of the Synod. It seems to me that maintaining the dialogue is a gesture of wisdom because it enables better mutual understanding and a strengthening of friendships based on a spirit of trust. As Christians we believe in the action of the Holy Spirit, who works in the heart of every man and leads him to the truth revealed in Jesus Christ. Dialogue lived in faith and sincerity can kindle the light of faith in the hearts of those who participate. However, I would rather insist on the need and effectiveness of dialogue in everyday life. In a country like Iran – where we are a small Christian flock flanked by an absolute Muslim majority – it is through such simple and natural intercourse that we can witness to our faith in Jesus Christ. Every day, in the workplace, at school, on the bus or in the neighborhood, we are together with our Muslim brothers, and we have to make these gratuitous opportunities moments in which to proclaim the Gospel, and that is possible when our life is every day inspired by love of our neighbor.
The Synod, unfortunately, in two weeks' work, did not attach sufficient importance to the difficult, critical situation of catechumens and neophytes in the Middle East. They are often distanced by their families, persecuted by the regimes and, what is worse, they feel excluded from the Church, which does not want to take any risk. The Gospel reminds us that persecution and martyrdom are part of Christian life and of the mission of the Church. Let us pray the Holy Spirit, Spirit of courage and strength, to enable us to welcome our brothers and sisters, who through their daily witness consolidate the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ.

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