Are Zoroastrians still being persecuted in Iran?
The essential thing is prayer
"If the mission of the Church is not rooted in prayer and is nourished by it, it cannot bear fruit and is doomed to wither like a tree without water." Episcopal Conference.
by Ramzi Garmou, Chaldean Archbishop of Tehran
What questions are crucial for the future of our churches in the Middle East? At the last Synod of Bishops, I highlighted two of them, to which I would now like to come back.
Monsignor Ramzi Garmou in St. Joseph's Cathedral in Tehran. [© Getty Images]
I first pointed out the danger that our churches will become ethnic, nationalistic churches, that they will concentrate too much on themselves for fear of losing their culture, language and customs, which of course would ultimately make them lose their missionary spirit .
The second point concerned the contemplative and monastic life. It is known that this form of Christian life came from the Orient - Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia - and that it was then passed on to the West. There were hundreds of monasteries in Iran at one time. And if the Church of the Orient, now known as Assyrian-Chaldean, was able to preach the Gospel between the 4th and 13th centuries even in such remote countries as China, Mongolia, India, etc., then it was possible thanks to those monasteries in which a intense prayer life was cultivated. If the mission of the Church is not rooted in and nourished by prayer, it cannot bear fruit, is doomed to wither like a tree without water. Today we unfortunately have to watch in the countries of the East how this form of prayer and Christian life is disappearing more and more.
The main reason for this painful circumstance, in my opinion, is to be found in the weakening of faith; in the fact that one often gives priority to other things and puts prayer in the background. The danger of an excessive creative urge also threatens those active in pastoral care. So it happens that we forget the essentials of our mission and waste too much time on things that are actually of secondary importance. Let us recall the gospel account of Martha and Mary. Jesus himself says that Mary, who sits at his feet and listens to his words, chose the better part, decided on the essentials.
The gospel tells us how much time Jesus devoted to prayer. When he wanted to retreat to solitude to pray, he would step away from the crowds that had come to hear his words. He often prayed all night long ... Jesus doesn't ask us to do much; he just wants us to do what really matters. Pastoral care and prayer complement each other. Both are necessary for mission to bear fruit, and for it to be lasting fruit. I hope that with the help of the Holy Spirit we will rediscover this form of Christian and ecclesiastical life in our churches, that we will be able to satisfy this urgent and concrete need.
The 4 bishops who make up the Bishops' Conference of Iran took part in the Synod of Bishops. At our next meeting we must try to put into practice the resolutions and food for thought of the Synod, so that the seeds sown in the Vatican can 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 are free to worship in our places of worship, but we cannot give public witness of our faith. So, since we enjoy limited freedom, we must do everything we can to ensure that this freedom can strengthen the faith of believers and motivate them to become aware of the mission that they have within our country.
The wave of Christian emigration did not just begin now, but with the beginning of the Islamic regime. That was a hundred years ago and has only increased in recent years. In my opinion there are many reasons for this. One of them is economic, as it is in many countries: the unemployment rate in Iran is alarmingly high, many people have no work, do not get any wages and thus have no way of earning a living. The second is political and has to do with the climate of insecurity that prevails in our country. And this situation has only got worse after the unjust occupation of Iraq by the US and threats against Iran. The third concerns a US-based Jewish agency called “Hias”, which has been allowing Iranian Christians to enter America via Austria for about 10 years. Many Christians have already left Iran on this path and many others are about to follow suit. I don't know why this agency works like that, but I know that it is partly responsible for the fact that emigration continues to increase.
In terms of interreligious dialogue, it should be said that an official dialogue is being conducted between the Holy See and Iran. I have had several opportunities - both in Tehran and in the Vatican - to take part in the meetings of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The Synod of Bishops also emphasized how important this exchange is. I think it is wise to encourage this dialogue. Only in this way can we learn to understand one another better and better and build friendships based on trust. As Christians we believe in the work of the Holy Spirit, who works in the hearts of all people and guides us to the truth revealed by Jesus Christ. A dialogue that is conducted in faith and with all openness can kindle the flame of faith in the hearts of the interlocutors. Above all, I would like to emphasize how important it is to continue this dialogue in everyday life. In a country like Iran, where our small Christian flock faces the absolute Islamic majority, we can testify to our faith in Jesus Christ through simple, self-evident exchanges. Every day we live side by side with our Muslim brothers and sisters - at work, at school, on the bus or in the neighborhood where we live - and so it is up to us to turn these innocent opportunities into moments when we preach the gospel. And that is possible when our lives are animated day by day by love for our neighbors.
Unfortunately, in the two weeks of its working sessions, the Synod of Bishops did not emphasize the difficult situation of the catechumens and neophytes in the Middle East. They are often far from their families, persecuted by their regimes and, what is worse, feel left out of the church, which does not want to take any chances. The gospel reminds us that persecution and martyrdom are part of the Christian life and mission of the church. May the Holy Spirit, spirit of courage and strength, give that we are able to welcome our brothers and sisters who strengthen the Church, the mystical body of Christ, through the testimony of their lives.
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