Plea for unity of Christians across Middle East

2013-04-25 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) An urgent appeal for an end to the violence in Syria has been made by the Global Christian Forum, a broad ecumenical network of Christian churches, communities and movements which met earlier this month in Amman, Jordan.
A statement issued at the end of the meeting called for a rejection of all forms of extremism and enmity, for stepped up efforts to aid refugees and all victims of violence in the Middle East and for Christians themselves - despite the plurality and variety of churches - to stand united in their witness to peace and justice in the region.
Bishop Brian Farrell is secretary of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity which follows closely the work of the Global Christian Forum. He’s also a friend of the two kidnapped Syrian Orthodox bishops, whose suffering he describes as a dramatic symbol of the difficulties facing all Christians in the Middle East today. He talked to Philippa Hitchen about how the plight of the ancient churches in this region is obliging them to reach out across their denominational divisions…


"The Global Christian Forum, in simple terms, is an effort to bring into ecumenical contacts and conversations the newer Pentecostal and Evangelical churches which have traditionally avoided being part of the ecumenical movement.

They are full of dynamic enthusiasm and grow enormously, so that now we’re talking about something like 500 million Christians who belong to these new religious groups. The question is for us to understand them, so our Council has been in dialogue for many years with some parts of these groups, including Pentecostals and Charismatics and so on…..we have made some good progress and we have agreed on ways in which we can help each other to overcome the conflict situations that arise in different parts of the world between Catholics and these other communities…

In the last 30 or 40 years many of these groups have made a huge effort to be present and are growing in parts of the Middle East….it’s rather difficult and we understand that Christians in the Middle East have been the way they are for so many centuries, so for them the presence of these newer groups is a mystery they don’t understand so well, but there is a huge effort now to understand why they are present, what they are doing and how they intend to be part of the Christian presence in these countries….

One of the positive things about the Global Christian Forum has been that organizing this meeting in the Middle East they have brought together a much wider spectrum of Christian churches and communities than normally happens so here now we have, I would hope, the beginnings of all Christians standing together in the difficulties, almost the persecution in some cases, that they are undergoing and that in itself is important…our weakness has always been that we were divided..

Our Pontifical Council has been saddened by the news of the kidnapping of the two Metropolitans that we know very well, Archbishop Gregorios (Yohanna Ibrahim) was here at the Synod of Bishops on the Middle East, Metropolitan Yazigi visited our Council so often and has been part of a collaborative effort with students from the Middle East who need to come and study…it’s almost a symbol of what is happening to all of the Christian communities in the Middle East ..

As the Holy Father said – this is an urgent call for us to do everything possible first of all through our prayer and spiritual solidarity but also in every other way we can to make the presence of Christians in the Middle East a secure part of the future. The problem is that the interests of the international community don’t coincide with the interest of the Christian communities there so in a sense they are abandoned and left to themselves…

We are still learning how to work together from a past in which we often worked against each other, we are learning to work together and please God, this will advance quickly."

Please find below the full statement from the Global Christian Forum:
As participants in the Global Christian Forum meeting held in Amman (8-9 April 2012) — bishops, priests, pastors, and lay people from all traditions of the Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, and Evangelical churches in the Middle East — we have exchanged perspectives on the situations of our churches. We have discussed promoting inter--Christian relationships as well as relationships with the co--citizens of our countries with whom we share the present, the future, and the same fate. We have considered at length the current critical situation in our region, with the imminent dangers that are threatening our people. We were particularly appalled by the horrific and bloody violence in Syria, the destruction, the displacement, and the dire circumstances of the victims of such violence. We were also deeply concerned about the recent events in Egypt, with all their repugnant sectarian tensions and undesirable consequences.

- We raise our voice and call upon our churches, church leaders and lay people to demonstrate the highest degree of wisdom and awareness during this difficult time, to remain rooted in faith, steadfast in hope, and established in love in order to overcome this critical period.

- We proclaim our solidarity with every human being who has suffered and suffers from political and social instability caused by violence, regardless of their religious, ethnic, social, and political identity. We call upon our brothers, sisters, and co--‐‑citizens to reject all forms of extremism and enmity, and to return to our shared human and spiritual values. We promise to strive firmly and to the limits of our capacity to lessen the agony of victims, to provide the aid needed for refugees inside and outside their homeland, as well as to support those in need, in cooperation with all components of society, particularly specialized governmental and non--governmental organizations.

- We urge those in charge to provide more efforts to insure the continuity of Christian presence in the Middle East by helping and encouraging people to remain in their own lands.

- We call upon the Global Christian Forum to show solidarity with Middle Eastern people in this critical period, by supporting their just causes, sounding the call to defend the victims and the oppressed, and contributing with all spiritual, moral, and financial means to help them remain in their own lands.

- We urge the churches and Christian communities participating in the Global Christian Forum to
implore their societies, governments, institutions, and international assemblies to support Christian presence in the Middle East in partnership with other religions, to work to achieve full citizenship with equal rights and duties among all people, in accordance with international treaties and agreements, and within the framework of fair laws and truly modern democratic systems.

- Finally, we call upon the Christians of the Middle East to stand together as witnesses of the one Gospel — despite the plurality and variety of churches — and to fulfill their calling in this Middle East. Unity in plurality must be a distinctive mark of our Christian life and purpose. We plead to God for peace, justice, and stability in our world, especially in the Middle East, and we pray that Christians will remain in it as a living testimony for Christ, the One who is victorious over death