Posted by: Fr Chris | November 28, 2011

Current Church News: Egypt and Syria

Hello All: A lot is happening in the Middle East these days, as the Arab Spring continues. It is flourishing in North Africa in Tunisia where it all began. Today voting took place in Egypt, with the support of the Christian Churches and Muslims alike. And from Al-Azhar University, the premier Islamic study center, comes an endorsement of the protesters in Tahrir Square, coupled with a call to protect the Christians.,-calls-for-the-defence-of-Christians-23281.html

From the German “Pro Oriente” comes this report on support for the protesters and a bold condemnation of the Muslim Brotherhood,  given by the  Coptic Catholic bishop of Giza. The Coptic Catholic Church is quite small,  only 162,000 parishioners, and tends to keep a low profile as a result.  So this statement is a real surprise:

And here is a story to give each of us a shot of inspiration: a profile of Sisters from the Adorers of the Cross, who have lived out their religious lives in communist-ruled North Vietnam, and then the united People’s Republic of Vietnam. At one point, they “lived in houses made of leaves” which I am guessing means palm branches but still sounds very fragile and impermanent!

I once sent out a mailing on this brave Italian priest who renovated the ancient and historic Deir Musa Monastery in Syria. There had not been any Syrian Catholic monks since the genocide perpetrated by the Turks in 1915-1917. Father Dall’Oglio has spent 30 years leading a monastic revival of both monks and nuns, in Deir Musa, a monastery abandoned for nearly 200 years. It is a center not only of Syriac Catholic revival, but Christian spirituality and an effective location of Christian-Islamic dialogue.  Here is the English website:

But Father’s outspoken support for human rights and freedom means he is in danger of being expelled from the country he calls home.  Christians are very afraid of change in Syria, because of the possibility of Muslim fundamentalism rising to power, but as he states in this interview, Christians simply have to stand on the side of freedom and pray and work hard to effect true democratic change. At the end he issues a plea to President Assad: we’ll have to see if he gets to stay – or is left alone.

And the Maronite Patriarch has been busy. After a tour of the US, where an estimated 215,000 Maronites live but only 80,000 are in parishes, he returned home to Lebanon.  There he served as host to a week long meeting of the Catholic Patriarchs of the Mashriq region (what we call the Middle East) and Egypt. The leaders of the Armenian, Chaldean, Coptic, Maronite, Melkite, and Syriacs were joined by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. The Russian Orthodox Patriarch had stopped by and gave his support to their work – an ecumenical encounter unthinkable in Eastern Europe!

The preliminary report:

And here is the final report, exhorting their faithful to stay and resist the temptation to emigrate while calling for them to be given the right to participate in civil society so that they can fulfill the Christian vocation to:

 be light, salt and yeast. We remember that they must build their own land so that all citizens enjoy equal rights, including the right to participate in politics, through solidarity with other social and religious components, within the state institutions. 

The Patriarchs also called for joint work on projects, a common  Easter date with the Orthodox (an extremely important point in the Middle East where Muslims deride the Christians who cannot decide when Jesus rose from the dead),  an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with suggestions for a just peace, and more lay involvement in society.  In all, it is a bold statement but one that has been long-awaited. Here is the text for you to read:

Pray for peace! Pray for the safety of the Christian Churches!



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