Ash Wednesday falls on February 14 this year.
In preparation for the upcoming Lenten season, Cardinal Louis Raphaël Sako, the Chaldean Patriarch, has called on Iraq’s Christians to observe the traditional Nineveh Fast with a special intention this year. The Nineveh Fast, a three-day discipline observed in the Syriac tradition, is a time for believers to reflect on Jonah’s three days in the belly of the great fish, symbolizing Christ’s death and resurrection, as well as the repentance of the ancient Ninevites.
This year’s Nineveh Fast, which typically occurs a week before Lent, holds a special intention. Cardinal Sako has urged the faithful to dedicate their fasting and prayers “for peace and stability in Iraq, the Holy Land, Ukraine, and the world.” The fast, observed from Sunday at midnight to Wednesday at noon, involves abstaining from dairy foods and meat products, with some participants choosing to abstain from food and drink until the Holy Qurbana (Mass) on Wednesday morning.
The Chaldean Patriarch’s call for prayer and fasting extends beyond regional concerns. He encourages believers to fervently pray for global leaders, urging them to pursue peace instead of war. The intention is to achieve progress towards reconciliation, fraternal relations, love, and tolerance for the benefit of humanity.
Cardinal Sako’s previous calls for the Nineveh Fast have been linked to the plight of Christians persecuted by the Islamic State group, particularly those residing in northern Iraq, including the Nineveh Plain.
Iraq’s Christians, whose numbers have significantly diminished due to conflicts and ISIS activities, are still in the process of rebuilding. Cardinal Sako has recently called on the Iraqi government to take measures ensuring justice for Christians, emphasizing the need for practical and clear actions.
Syriac Christian communities, with roots dating back to the earliest days of Christianity, face challenges due to war and instability in the Middle East. While devastated by conflicts, these communities maintain a fragile presence in the region, and they also have substantial communities in southwestern India, particularly in the Syro-Malabar Church. Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, is the language spoken by Jesus and holds significant theological and liturgical importance for these communities.
As the Nineveh Fast unfolds, Christians in Iraq and beyond join in prayer, seeking not only personal spiritual reflection but also global peace and stability.