As the Chaldean Catholic Church begins their annual synod, Pope Francis kicked the meeting off by telling leaders of the eastern rite that given the new apprehensions arising from increasing political instability, they must urgently work to promote unity at all levels of society. “If in fact a tragic page has closed in some regions of your country, it means that there is still much to be done,” the Pope said Oct. 5, urging Chaldean Church leaders in Iraq “to work tirelessly as builders of unity.”

This unity is especially important between pastors of the Chaldean Catholic Church and leaders of other Catholic rites in the area, who should work together in “promoting dialogue and collaboration among all the actors of public life” in helping to facilitate the return of displaced persons and to heal divisions, he said.

Francis stressed that this commitment to unity “is necessary now more than ever in the current Iraqi context, faced with new uncertainties about the future.” “There is need for a process of national reconciliation and of a joint effort of all the components of society, to reach shared solutions for the good of the whole country,” he said, and voiced his hope that the “strength of spirit, hope and industriousness” characteristic of Iraqi society would never diminish.

He told the Church leaders to “remain firm” in their intention of “not falling into discouragement before the difficulties that still remain despite what has been done in the reconstruction work on the Nineveh Plain.”

Pope Francis spoke to participants in the Synod of the Chaldean Catholic Church, which is taking place from Oct. 4-8 in Rome,and comes on the tails of a recent Aid to the Church in Need conference on rebuilding towns and villages on the Nineveh Plains, during which Patriarch Luis Rafael Sako, Chaldean Patriarch of Baghdad, was a keynote speaker.

In addition to new fears and uncertainties roused by the recent referendum vote to liberate Iraqi Kurdistan from the Iraqi central government, making it an independent state, other talking points in the Chaldean synod will include forced migration, the return of displaced persons, the rebuilding of villages on the Nineveh Plains, Chaldean Church law, liturgical topics and vocational pastoral activities.

In his speech, the Pope said that given Iraq's roots as a land of “civilization, encounter and dialogue” evangelized by St. Thomas the Apostle, it's especially important that Christians in the region are united in promoting “respectful relations and interreligious dialogue through all components of society.”

He also encouraged them for a number of new vocations to the priesthood and religious life. However, with a general decline in vocations throughout the Church, Francis also cautioned against “welcoming into seminaries people who are not called by the Lord.” “It's necessary to examine well the vocation of youth and to verify their authenticity,” he said, explaining that formation in seminaries must be integral and “capable of including various aspects of life responding in a harmonious way to the four human, spiritual, pastoral and intellectual dimensions.”

The Pope also urged Chaldean Church leaders to work together with the Latin Church to address the diaspora of their faithful throughout the world, with an eye to the local ecclesial contexts in which they live, both from a numerical point of view, and that of religious liberty. Special attention must be paid, he said, to the pastoral care of faithful in the territories where ancient eastern communities “have long been established,” while also promoting “communion and fraternity with the Latin rite communities in order to give the faithful a good witness without spreading divisions and disagreements.”

The Congregation for Oriental Churches will help in this task, Pope Francis said, and closed his address praying that the Chaldean Synod gathering would be “a fruitful moment of fraternal dialogue and reflection for the good of the beloved Chaldean Church.”