Middle East prelates flag suffering of ChristiansWednesday, June 20th, 2012
Christians in the Middle East feel threatened and are suffering, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem has warned.
Acknowledging that it is human to be afraid, Patriarch Fouad Twal told pilgrims attending the closing days of the International Eucharistic Congress that he was speaking to them, “as a reminder of our communion with one another in suffering.”
Considering the political situation in the Middle East, and the threats existing from living in the conflict between Jews and Arabs, fear was a human response, though it was, “not an acceptable response for a follower of Christ,” he said. The Patriarch, who is president of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, said he felt at home with the pilgrims celebrating the Eucharist as Patriarch of the city of Jerusalem, where the Sacrament of the Eucharist took place.
Referring to the many projects and programmes that help local Christians remain rooted in their land and avoid emigration, he underlined that though these projects were essential, the real help for Christians living in conflict comes from prayer and the Eucharist. In the Holy Land, he told pilgrims, there are more than 100 religious congregations of whom fifteen are contemplative communities.
“This is the treasure and richness of our diocese,” the Patriarch said.
Being numerically small as a community is not new for Christians in Jerusalem, who at the beginning of the Church were very few and found courage only in the presence of Christ, the Patriarch reminded listeners. “Though we are very few and diminishing in number, may we Christians in Jerusalem as well as all Christians, remain faithful where the Lord has placed us," he prayed.
On Friday, Congress pilgrims also heard Archbishop Bashar Warda, Chaldean archbishop of Erbil in Iraq speak on the theme of suffering.
Suffering, he said, is “always degenerating and devastating.”
He told ciNews, “Maintaining a Christian presence in the Middle East as a whole is a very difficult task,” and that the only reason Christians stay is the, “long and deep history and the culture that we have there.”
He admitted that the threat to his own personal safety is, “always there.”
In his reflection on the theology of suffering, Archbishop Warda, who is a Redemptorist and spent a couple of years studying in Ireland, drew from the example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Liberation theology's base communities, Charles Foucault and the six martyr monks killed in Algeria.
He concluded his reflection by drawing on the writings of Syrian poet, Mar Ephrem.
He told ciNews, “One of the blessings of this suffering,” for Christians in Iraq was that it brought them all together in solidarity.
“The terrorist attacks do not make any difference between a Catholic or Orthodox, or between Chaldean or Syrian. They are against Christians. So if they are not making a distinction why should we be making a distinction?”
Among the pilgrims attending the Congress were seventeen from Turkmenistan, where the Catholic population totals just 135 people in all.
Separately, Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong, who was among the principal concelebrants at the Statio Orbis at Croke Park, told ciNews after a Mass he celebrated for pilgrims who had travelled to Ireland from Taiwan, that the Church in Hong Kong has seen a deterioration of its spiritual situation since the city’s handover to China.
The 80-year-old Salesian prelate said the influence from mainland China, “was increasingly seen in a culture of selfishness and the influence of secularism.”
He added, “We are facing some new difficulties in Hong Kong.”
By Sarah Mac Donald