The Christian Presence in the Middle East Witness and Mission

Part I

Collegial Pastoral letter of the CatholicPatrirarchs of the Middle East to their Faithful in their different countries of residence

Signed by:

Stephanos Ghattas 1, Patriarch of Alexandria of Catholic Copts, Maximos V Hakim, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, of Alexandria and Jerusalem, Mar Ignace Antoine II Hayek, Antiochian Patriarch of the Syrian Catholics, Mar Nasrallah-Pierre Sfeir, Patriarch of Maronite Antioch and all the East, Mar Raphail 1st Bidawid, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, Jean-Pierre XVIII Kasparian, Patrirach of the Armenian Catholics, Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem

Greetings and Thanksgiving

1. The greeting of the apostle introduces this collegial pastoral Letter, fruit of the 2nd symposium of our Council held in Cairo 17-22 February, 1992, where we were the guests of H.B. Patriarch Stephanos II Ghattas, Patriarch of Alexandria of the Catholic Copts. In addressing this greeting to you, we give thanks to God always for all of you remembering you in our prayers unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess 1:2-3).

2. We direct our- selves to you, brothers Catholic sons and daughters, who live in our beloved East and in the ancient Arab lands.Through you, we wish also to direct ourselves to all our Christian brothers and sisters in the region, to all those who believe in God, to all our compatriots, and all persons of good will, for ever and ever (cf. I Cor 15:28).

Experience and reflection

3. The grace of faith shone for the first time in our East, and from there spread to the ends of the inhabited earth, This grace gave rise to a rich and enduring experience of faith and civilization in our countries and our societies. By our constant prayer and meditation, we wish so to foster it that it continues to open up its pathway through ever-renewed conditions. We, therefore, beseech the grace of the holy Spirit, who guides us to the fullness of truth who teaches us everying and reminds us of all that our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, told us (cf. Jn 14:26:16:13). We ask this same Spirit "to remain with you, and be in you" (Jn 14:17). The subject of our 2nd Symposium was the meaning of our Christian presence in our societies, and the way in which we give our Christian witness . In this pastoral letter, we wish to share our reflections and our views with you, so that together we might seek the will of God for us, and respond to the appeals of the societies to which we belong. This Pastoral Letter is a continuation of the dialogue we established with you in our 1st Message following our 1st Symposium in Lebanon (24 August1991).

I. New Facts and changes

A. In the world

Unity and communications

4. The continuing development of the means of commmunication has brought a compact unity to the world of today. Our universe has come to resemble a global village, the extremes of which have met, and each of its parts has an influence on the others within the whole of the body of mankind. Thus, it is no longer possible for a human group to live on the margin of history as a neutral observer of what occurs around it. The solidarity of mankind in good times and bad is one of the great signs of the times which overshadows the life of the world today. This requires us to cast a glance, however fleeting and partial, at what is happening all around us, and within our Churches. Our Christian presence in the East is determined by this context and directed by it.

Changes and conflicts

5. Over the last years a new situation has been developing on the international level. Important changes have taken place, and it is not clear yet what their out come will be. These changes are occurring constantly and have repercussions in all parts of the world. They lead States and societies to review their plans and the positions they have adopted. In the midst of all these changes old conflicts give way to new ones, within the context of a different geographical and political restructuring. This gives rise to the many questions that trouble the international community and sharpen its ability to handle conflicts in a way that serves the good of mankind, peace, tranquillity and stability. While awaiting the realization of the hopes of the human family, however, some societies continue to suffer the effects of the changes caused by these conflicts, with all the destruction and hatred that this entails. As the world advances towards the longed-for stability, mankind is tormented by overwhelming ambitions, and more than at any other time the future of the world is brought into question by serious hazards.

The new world order

6. In our first message we referred to what has come to be known as "the new world order". Although still beyond our grasp, the family of nations is seeking to establish it. If, by this order, we are to understand a climate of peace and relaxation which would allow the world to come to grips with the many unsolved problems with which it is faced for the good of the whole of mankind, this would present a new hope for humanity as it stands on the threshold of the third millennium of our era. If, however, it means that private forces are to monopolize the future of the universe and manipulate it in their own interests and selfish purposes, this would raise serious doubts about the future condition of mankind. The matter is still under study, and definitive judgement would be premature at this point. We certainly hope that in the end it will be the common good that triumph us for all, and that the foundations of justice, peace and development for all men and women will be firmly established.

North and South

7. unforeseen and significant new events have taken place in important areas of our planet. Notwithstanding the conflicts and trials that accompany them, we hope they will be beneficial for the peoples involved. However, these facts should not lead us to overlook one of the important questions raised throughout the world by the situation of the Third World, and by relations between the North and South: between an advanced, indusirrialized North and a poor, developing South. The following question must be asked: how will the new world order tackle this tragic situation? Will a positive interaction be established between North and South? Will this interaction take into account the aspirations and problems of the peoples of the South? Will an effort be made to satisfy the real needs for cultural, economical and social development in this suffering part of the world, while respecting its character, its aspirations, its outlook and its hopes? Will the Third World be given a real chance to make itself heard, and determine for it self the role it will play in the general evolution? Or will it continue to lag behind the rest of mankind in the process of development? There are many fundamental, urgent and vital questions to be answered.

Coexistence

8. At the heart of this situation we find the great challenge faced by the modern world: the question of coexistence between the different human families. It would not be an exaggeration to maintain that all the problems that have afflicted our times have grown out of this fundamental question, or are extensions of it. A feature of the modern world is an awareness of the distinctive nature and authenticity of different peoples and social categories. It is at times difficult to reconcile this awareness with the demands of peace and good neighborliness, both within a single country and between countries and regions. It is also the cause of a lack of transparency in human relations, provoking crises which frequently become bloody conflicts. The contemporary world must respond to the following urgent question: How to live together in mutual respect and peace, while taking into account the pluralism characteristic of today's world? How can the pluralism which has so often been used as an excuse for misunderstandings and bloody struggles be transformed into a call for communication and complementarity ? Can the logic of "Either Me or Him" be replaced by the logic of "You and Me"? This is the kind of question we must face up to.

B. In Our Arab World

An essential partner

9. Not withstanding the variety of its regions, of its socio-political regimes, of its peoples, its minorities and orientations, the Arab world Constitutes a characteristic geographical and cultural unity. This world of ours does not stand at the margin of the diverse new phenomena which are springing up around it, It constitutes rather, an important part of them, constantly interacting with them at all levels and in all areas, and experiencing all the positive and negative consequences they produce. It can justly be claimed that the Arab world is an essential and influential partner in the interplay of the variables, new facts, conflicts and challenges of modern times. All this is due to its geographical position, its cultural bonds with the rest of the world, the wealth of its natural resources (principally oil), and the political problems which affect it, and which are of concern to the whole world. All this means that the Arab world is of particular importance in the context of world conflict, and gives it a special responsibility in the search for peace and international stability. This explains why our region has become a crucible of international conflict -as we declared in the message we issued after our first Symposium- conflicts which exhaust our peoples and disturb the peace of the world.

The gestation of a civilizanon

10. The Arab world is part of the Third World. This implies a difficult gestation as regards its civilization. It is a world in search of itself, trying to shape its existence and find a place for itself in the world of today. That would allow it to be a positive element in the evolution of a world civilization and the consolidating of peace, playing the part that corresponds to the authenticity of its identity and the characteristics of its inheritance. The search has to thread a path through deep social, geopolitical, economic and cultural changes, beset by innumerable internal and external differences. As a result, this difficult gestation experiences its ups and downs, makes progress and suffers setbacks. As it undergoes this historic trial, the Arab world feels that cannot reconize itself in the images the world applies to it. This has repercussions On its relations with the rest of the world and its outlook, creating tensions which are difflcult to overcorne.

Continues part II