Forming Leaders: Living in Accordance With God’s Will

Below is an excerpt from a letter written by the Reverend Ephrem Gilyana Dinkha in Iraq, in which he reflects on the challenges faced by clergy in his country and the need to form community-minded seminarians for the Chaldean Church. Father Dinkha is the rector of the Major Seminary of St. Peter for the Chaldean Patriarchate in Erbil. His “Letter From Iraq” was first published in the March 2021 edition of ONE magazine.

In 2017, we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the establishment of our Major Seminary of St. Peter for the Chaldean Patriarchate in Iraq. It is now the only seminary functioning in Iraq and it accepts all Chaldean seminarians throughout the world. Among our seminarians are those who have suffered at the hands of ISIS, whose families were displaced and lost everything. Despite these trials, our main goal remains shaping stronger Catholic priests in an unstable and violent environment.

In my experience as rector of the seminary, forming candidates to the priesthood, while it is a lifelong process, should focus on four dimensions: human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral. Giving proper formation in these areas in a country that suffers from the effects of war, terrorism and ethnic conflicts is challenging, to say the least. However, our reality urges us to prepare future leaders who will transmit the faith to the people in this land of persecution and who will be signs of peace and hope.

Our seminarians understand what is at stake and the importance of the Christian witness, and they respond with generosity. In a recent interview for a Catholic publication, one of our seminarians demonstrated this fact, saying he “understood the meaning of mission in a country like Iraq.” Despite the obvious challenges, he went on to urge “young people to undertake the loving service [of a priestly or religious vocation] that our world needs today.” …

We try to nurture in each student the compassion of a good shepherd. This is the ability to assume a conscientious and mature responsibility for the care of souls. This also requires an interior strength and perception that will allow him to evaluate pastoral difficulties and to establish the priorities in his mission.

To be blunt: The reality of priesthood in a country racked by persecution may result in martyrdom. We prepare the seminarians for this possibility through the real-life experiences of our very own priests who have died at the hands of terrorists — Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul and Father Ragheed Ghanni — and others. Both Archbishop Rahho and Father Ghanni were students at our seminary. …

I always recall the day of my priestly ordination by the hand of the late Archbishop Rahho, which took place one month after the martyrdom of Father Ghanni.

On that occasion, my bishop said: “We have just lost a priest. Today, we have found another.”

I heed those words in order to take courage and remain always optimistic. It is why I repeat the words of St. John Paul II to future priests under my care: “Do not be afraid!”

Priesthood, in union with our own experience, is lived according to the will of God as an imitation of our personal Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is a sign of hope for our church to be active during the darkest times. Our seminary is proud of keeping the light of hope lit for our local and universal church.

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