Patriarch Twal urges equal citizenship for Christians, prayers for world peace

2013-09-19 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal is calling on the faithful and all people of good will to continue to pray for world peace. The Patriarch, who is in Rome for a meeting of the Latin Bishops’ Conference for the Arab Region (CERLA) , told Tracey McClure that the universal day for prayer for peace in Syria and the Mideast called by Pope Francis last September 7th succeeded in its goal, at least temporarily.

“It really worked; we must admit that. And we must thank God really. We can say we have two periods: one period before the prayer, one period after the prayer. Before the prayer (these) big politicians were choosing which kind of war: short war, long war. But that was War and after the Prayer, (then) they (began) looking for a diplomatic solution and they didn’t speak about war. That doesn’t mean that we must stop.” Calling Christians to continue their prayers for peace, Patriarch Twal said our weapon “is prayer and our army is the many faithful all over the world – (together) with (other) people of good will… Enough, enough, enough with violence. Enough victims, enough dead people – that’s enough really!”

The meeting of CERLA members ends Friday; they are discussing initiatives surrounding the Year of Faith and celebrations around the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council.

The Patriarch noted with sadness that two members could not come to the meetings in Rome: the Latin Bishop of Egypt and the Apostolic Administrator of Syria. “Considering the situation they are living (in these days) they preferred not to leave. It would be difficult for them to go back.”

Patriarch Twal says the CERLA members represent different regions, each with “different problems, different issues” of the Church in the Arab context. The Gulf, he notes, “has millions of Asiatic faithful; they have very, very big celebrations. Until now, they enjoy a kind of freedom for celebration – no problem there.”

Speaking of his own Patriarchate which covers Cyprus, Israel, Palestine and Jordan, Patriarch Twal says “for the moment in the Holy Land, in Jerusalem, I can say that the focus is no more about the situation (there): the occupation, the walls, the checkpoints and so on.” The attention of the mass media and of the world has turned “to the situation in Syria and to the refugees in Jordan. But not necessarily to the Holy Land” where he laments the situation has remained “the same.”

Equal Citizenship for Mideast Christians
Asked about the bishops’ concerns regarding the issue of equal citizenship and rights of Christians in the region, Patriarch Twal refers to what Church leaders said at a recent high-level Amman conference organized by Jordan’s King Abdullah on the challenges facing Christians in the Middle East:

“We spoke so frankly that they were a little bit disturbed. They never thought we would speak so frankly. One of these arguments that we touched (upon) publicly without any fear was this feeling (of) whether we are equal or not equal. We want to see this equality with… freedom to reach the mass media. To have access to the television, to the radio, as (do) the others. We want to feel this citizenship (by exercising) our right to freedom of conscience. Conversion to Islam or conversion to Christianity." The Patriarch says the bishops want to see these rights enshrined in the constitutions of each country. “They never thought we would speak so frankly. They said to speak about your challenges but they never (expected) us to speak so frankly: we the Iraqi people, the Lebanese people…”

Regarding feedback following the conference, Patriarch Twal admits it may be a long process. “We need more time. Because in the same time it is a question of good will from the government, but at the same time it is a question of time, of culture. We need a new generation, new people.” The Patriarch, who opened a university in Madaba, Jordan which now boasts a majority Muslim student population from more than 35 countries, says education will be key in this process.

In the Interview , Patriarch Twal speaks of initiatives for the Year of Faith, the impact of Vatican II on the Church in the Holy Land and relations between Christians and Muslims.

Listen to Tracey McClure's extended interview with Patriarch Twal: