The Christian Presence in the Middle East Witness and Mission

Collegial pastoral letter of the Catholic Patriarchs of the Middle East to their Faithful in their different countries of residence

11. The problems involved in this gestation are many, and overlapping. We mention a number of them, but the list is not exhaustive: heritage and modernity, political stability, political and social regimes, socio-economic development, unity in diversity, protected from divisions and disintegration, public freedoms, including religious freedom and freedom of conscience, the problems of justice, peace and the rights of the human being, including those of women, the position of minorities and respect for their diversity, and the relationship with a pluralistic world in rapid evolution. The Arab lives in the midst of these problems, and seeks his identity as a response to his memories of the past and the questions posed by the future. A deciding moment is open to him, and he will decide on his fate and his futur, only in so far as he is fully aware of the challenges and their intricate make-up, and is in control of the situation. He also requires wisdom, discernment and patience to tackle these problems in a way that serves the good of all those who live in this sensitive part of the world.

Current problems

12. A part from all this, the Arab word is faced by grave problems which have played a vital role in the changes it has under gone and still influence nature of these problems and the multitude of partners involved can only, it must be said, complicate them even further. In the fore front of these problems is the Palestinian question. It has had a deep influence on the contemporary history of the region and has stirred the Arab conscience. It will continue to be an essential part of its trial as long as the Palestinian people are the victim of injustice and oppression. As regards the Lebanese question, there is an uneasy truce after all the sufferings and misfortune inflicted on all the sides involved, first of all on the Lbanese and the Palestinians. Add to this all the lesser and greater wars that have taken place, and will continue to take place in different Arab countries, giving rise to suffering, misfortune and destruction. In particular, we wou]d like to mention the tragedy of the people of Iraq, who are waiting to overcome the state of isolation and blockade imposed on them, and participate once again in the life of the Arab world and that of the family of nations. We say this as the international community and all the parties involved are considering how to deal with these problems and solve them in their discussions. We pray that the initiatives undertaken in this regard may be a genuine, serious opportunity for finding a just, lasting and global solution for these different problems, and lead to the establishment of an equitable order, which guarantees dignity and freedom to all, and reinforces a new and positive set of regional and international relations for the good of all the peoples of the region without exception.

C. In our Churches Living

13. Our Churches are not isolated islands or foreign bodies living on the margin of history. They are living Churches fully engaged in the whirlwind of world and regional events. They are affected by them, but in turn have the ability to act on them. Our Christian communities are a yeast which has its place in the human dough (cf. Mtt 13:33). They are engaged in a permanent interaction with their Lord, with one another and with their environment: with their Lord, in order by the light of faith to discover his will for them; with one another, in order to find in their thought, their spirituality, their heritage and their recent experiences, the seeds of their vocation and renewal; with their respective societies, in order to hear their appeals, their suffering and their needs. By means of all this, our Churches recover their distinct character, their particular contribution and their authenticity characterized by antiquity and constant renewal.We are at a decisive turning point, overwhelmed by events, changes and challenges at three levels -the world, regional and local- and our Churches pause to reflect and meditate on the renewal of their fidelity to God and man. We look back and give thanks

14. In this regard we can but give thanks to God for the signs of the Spirit revealed in the life of our AI-Bushra Churches and their earthly progress. The Ho]y Spirit dwells in our Churches. He acts in them and renews their youthfulness. For the spirit makes all things new (Rev. 21:15). It is this spirit which gives us peace of heart and the courage to -continue along our way with you, ful] of confidence, however many difficulties there may be, however daunting the challenges. In our Churches today we are witnesses to a vast movement of serious, responsible, creative reflection, aimed at shaping our ecclesial, social identity as believers, hic et nunc (here and now). This reflection is common to all the Christian Churches and the socio-cultura] categories of which they are composed, and in spite of the different starting points, it brings them together in the heart of the same ecc]esia] crucible. This movement finds that reflection alone does not suffice. It must be put into action in the different areas, such as liturgical life, social action, commitment in the diverse forms of public life, a growing participation of the laity in Church life, maturity of faith in the diverse sectors of the Christian people, the growth in vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, and other expressions of the calling to the service of mission. The varied seeds of renewal which have begun to sprout in our Churches are a promising sign of their vitality and a pledge for the future. Some questions

15. The seeds of renewal are accompanied by a number of dif ficulties and problems. We must reflect upon these if we are to face up to them. As we contemplate the future, we are not unaware of the concern and fear which overshadow us, both you and us, in the challenges and demands of this turning point of history in which we live. As we examine our position, we see otrrse]ves as a ship making headway through the storms. This awakens fears for the present and for the future, for ourselves, our existence, our authenticity and our identity, accompanied by the discouragement and despair that such fears can arouse. The many serious difficulties faced by our Christian communities at every moment of their daily life are never absent from our minds. These difficulties are not unrelated to the tensions which spring up for one reason or another in each individual Church, or because of the divisions and separation between the different Churches in the East, or our relations with others, which are of ten not subject to the spirit of fraternity and respect, and also by the precarious nature of our life in this region. All this gives rise to a number of disturbing questions. It causes us to live in a state of permanent tension undoubtedly one of the. reasons leading some of us to emigrate. And the phenomenon of emigration continues to be an open wound that limits our vitality and even raises a question mark over our very existence and our witness. We launch an appea]

16. Nonetheless, we should all remember that our faith in Jesus Christ is an element of considerable spiritual energy which has accompanied us in the past and brought us through the most difficult historical transformations. This same energy accompanies us now and in the future, giving us confidence in ourselves and serenity as we move ahead. It is Christ himself who accompanies us amidst the waves and the storms. He tells us, "Why are you afraid, 0 you of little faith" (Mt 8:26). Our faith is a liberating force, that sets us free from the paralyzing fear caused by our difficulties. Our Churches are Easter Churches, and tension is one dimension of an existence which involves death and resurrection.

Hence, we appeal to all the faith ful in our countries, inviting them to reflection and action, whatever the difficulties. Rooted in Christ, their Churches and their societies, and moving forward in faith and joy, let them always remember "that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to bc revealed for us" (Rom 8:1 8).

II. Presence of faith and prayer Presence

17. After reviewing with you the world, regional and ecciesial conditions in which we live, we should now like to endeavour to define in the light of our faith, some of the characteristics of our vocation and our mission. We have chosen '1presence" as a fact of faith which accompanies our reflection, gives unity to its different aspects and defines its overall orientation. Presence means that in the midst of the society in which we live we are a sign of God's presence in our world. That invites us to be "with" "in" "for" and not "against" "outside" or "on the margin" of the society in which we live. This is an essential demand of our faith, our vocation and our mission. Presence is situated between two opposing pitfalls: "marginalisation" and "dissoluflon11. Bach is a mortal illness. Marginalization nullifies our mission and dissolution produces the same effect as regards our identity since authentic presence is a guarantee for both, mission and identity. Presence deepens our faithfulness to God, to ourselves and to the society God has given us as the theatre of our earthly progress.