ASIA/MIDDLE EAST – Document on the future of Christians in the Middle East: Western “protections” or “alliances between minorities” do not help us

Antelias (Agenzia Fides) – In the Middle East there are ecclesial realities that “in order to obtain assistance from some American and European Christian groups, they adopt ideas that militate against coexistence, exaggerate the suffering of Christians, and promote the theory of systematic persecution by Muslims”. Other ecclesial subjects are betting everything on the strategy of the “alliance between minorities” or on the protection of authoritarian regimes as the only ways to ensure the survival of indigenous Christian communities in the Middle East. These are misleading choices and orientations, which risk weighing negatively on the future of the Christian presence in the Middle East and denying the same mission to which the Church called today in the part of the world has lived her earthly life. These are some of the provocations disseminated in the document entitled “Christians in the Middle East: Towards Renewed Theological, Social, and Political Choices”.


The long and dense contribution, divided into one hundred paragraphs, is offered as a systematic attempt to consider in depth the present condition of Christian communities in the Arab-Middle Eastern context. This is an initiative that has no equal in the recent history of theological and pastoral reflection on the present and future of Christians in the Middle East.


The document, released today during an official presentation organized in the conference room of the church of Sant’Elia, in Antelias (Lebanon), is the result of the long work carried out by an ecumenical team of specialists in theology, social studies and geopolitical issues , “Men and women, ordained and lay ministers, who wanted to confront themselves with frankness and freedom also “on issues that some may consider inappropriate for a public debate”.


The team, which has taken as its initials a formula that echoes a verse from Deuteronomy (“We have chosen life in abundance”), includes, among others, Professor Souraya Bechealany, former secretary general of the Council on the Churches of the Middle East, and Maronite priest Rouphael Zgheib, national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies of Lebanon.

FULL ARTICLE FROM FIDES.ORG

Muslims, Our Brothers and Sisters in the Abrahamic Faith

Afghanistan has once again been captured by the Taliban, who are known for their complete disregard for human rights and international conventions, sending tremors across the region. The electronic and social media displayed images of Afghan citizens trying to leave the country in fear by hanging on to the planes that took off from the Kabul airport. Who will forget the images of the Afghan women throwing their children over the barbed wires of the airport walls begging American soldiers who were leaving Kabul for good to take them away with them? The situation has become even murkier with many a regional power entering into the embroiled scenario.

Subsequently, prejudices and biases against Islam and Muslims have once again become table-talk across India. People passionately discuss the Taliban brutality and Islamic fundamentalism. It is important to discuss and debate public issues that affect millions of lives in our neighbourhood. However, only informed deliberations will profit us. Discussions driven by bigotry will do no good but remain one-sided and superficial and lead to unfair conclusions. During my conversations with many Christians recently, some portrayed Muslims as ‘communally charged fundamentalists’ who spread fear and unrest among people of other faiths. We do hear many Christians making sweeping statements connecting Indian Muslims and Indian Islam with ‘conspiracies against Christians’. These include members of the clergy and, at times, even members of the hierarchy. This editorial aims at offering in broad strokes some basic understanding of Islam and Muslims that will help us in pastorally engaging with Muslims and dealing with Christian-Muslim controversies.

FULL ARTICLE FROM INDEPENDENT CATHOLIC NEWS (INDIA)

What can Catholics learn from Muslims about encountering God?

Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion, embraced by one fourth of the global population and with three and a half million adherents living in the United States. Yet dialogue between Christians and Muslims is fraught, given differences in theology, ethics, history and contemporary political realities. Benedictine Br. David Steindl-Rast offers this slim book, 99 Names of God, as a beginning point for Christians to enter into the devotional life of Muslims in the hope of opening up dialogue between them.

Steindl-Rast is well positioned to do this. Born in 1926, he was awarded a doctoral degree in psychology and anthropology from the University of Vienna. He entered the Benedictine monastery at Mount Savior in Elmira, New York, in 1953 and was co-founder of the inter-religious Center for Spiritual Studies. Although best known for his writings on gratefulness, he has been engaged in interfaith dialogue since 1966, in both Christian-Buddhist and Christian-Muslim discussions.

99 Names of God
99 NAMES OF GOD By David Steindl-Rast219 pages; Published by Orbis Books $20.00

His insight is that if Christians can explore a principal devotional ritual of Islam, namely repetition of the Koranic names of God, this will give them a starting point to appreciate what can seem like a strange and inaccessible religion to some Christians. All three of the Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — are “people of the book,” each has a written scripture and all name God.

Steindl-Rast is clear about why humans name. In their encounter with God, who is understood as “Thou,” they make clumsy attempts to address and call by name the transcendent yet intimate reality. He attests that this naming expresses the human experience of God, but only indirectly the Ultimate Reality encountered. All these 99 names are related and connected but none singly or together can capture God. Steindl-Rast analogizes these names both as a prism that refracts God’s resplendent beauty and as windows onto God’s mystery.

Some of these names of God derive from human intellect and reason, including the “almighty,” “the powerful,” “the sovereign.” Others arise from the intimacy of the encounter, such as “the merciful, “the compassionate,” “the ever-forgiving.” The devotional purpose of repeating these names is to bring one closer to the encounter that produced them. Naming is a stammering attempt to “call to” Ultimate Reality experienced as “Thou.” Christians should find here a ritual practice familiar to them.

FULL ARTICLE FROM NATIONAL CATHOLIC REGISTER

Pope visit favors Shia-Catholic connection; Iraqi Christians remain divided

Iraq (MNN) — Pope Francis made history earlier this month when he visited Iraq. Today, Catholic leaders praise the trip as a “milestone” for relations between the Catholic Church and Shia Islam.

Speaking to Crux last week, senior official Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso said:

For what concerns the relationship between Christianity and Shia Islam, the Najaf meeting is a further step forward for the dialogue of respect and friendship with the Shia community both in Iran and in Iraq, in which both the local Church and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, which I preside over, have been involved in for years.

“The main impetus of [the pope] coming is a political framework, not a religious or spiritual framework. The outcomes of that are about building relationships between Muslims and Christians,” Samuel* of Redemptive Stories says.

“It was very interesting and very telling that he visited Shia sites and met with Shia leaders as the primary impetus for his travels, which is something most heads of state would never do.”

The Vatican is the world’s smallest independent nation, and Pope Francis is its appointed leader. As described here, “the general politics and governance of the Vatican City are undertaken by the head of the Catholic Church, the Pope… The Pope exercises ex officio supreme legislative, executive and judicial power over the state of the Vatican City.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM MISSION NETWORK NEWS

Interfaith prayer marked by respect, not relativism

Pope Francis recently completed an apostolic visit to Iraq. Any journey of a pope is newsworthy, but this trip captured the hearts and imaginations of many. It was the first visit of a pope to Iraq.

Iraq is a country that has been the center of the world’s attention for decades, being the site of several recent wars. It is the country where the biblical city of Ur is located, the ancestral home of the Patriarch Abraham, who is revered by three major world religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Pope Francis, like his predecessors St. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict, each have embraced the moral imperative to reach out to people of good will across the religious divide and work for understanding and peace.

During all three of these papacies there have been people that are skeptical of such outreach, mainly due to fear of “syncretism.” That is the amalgamation of different religions that can appear to be a sort of “melting pot” of religions. Each faith tradition that engages in syncretism gets added to the mix, and a new synthesis emerges, related to the component parts yet changed and different. There is a legitimate concern that this could happen in interreligious dialogue.

Vatican II in the Declaration on Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate) recognized the pluralistic world of today and reflects that the Church “in her task of promoting unity and love […] considers above all in this declaration what men have in common and what draws them to fellowship” (NA §1).

The misperception between dialogue and syncretism resulted in a message of clarification 35 years later with Dominus Iesus, which clarified that engagement in dialogue does not mean surrendering the truth of the Gospel. It particularly warned against relativism, which some had inferred from dialogue that all religions are the same or are simply alternate roads to achieve salvation.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CATHOLICPHILLY.COM

Pope Francis and Islam: three cornerstones of a magisterium

A common thread links Pope Francis’ keynote speeches given in Baku, Cairo and Ur, which indicate the need for an authentic religiosity to worship God and love our brothers and sisters, and a concrete commitment to justice and peace.

Pope Francis, right, meets with Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf, Iraq, Saturday, March 6, 2021. The closed-door meeting was expected to touch on issues plaguing Iraq’s Christian minority. Al-Sistani is a deeply revered figure in Shiite-majority Iraq and and his opinions on religious matters are sought by Shiites worldwide. (AP Photo/Vatican Media)

By Andrea Tornielli

There is a common thread linking three important interventions of Pope Francis regarding interreligious dialogue, and Islam in particular.

It is a magisterium that indicates a road map with three fundamental points of reference: the role of religion in our societies, the criterion of authentic religiosity, and the concrete way to walk as brothers and sisters to build peace. We find them in the speeches that the Pope gave in Azerbaijan in 2016; in Egypt in 2017; and now during his historic trip to Iraq, in the unforgettable meeting in Ur of the Chaldeans, the city of Abraham.

The interlocutors of the first speech were the Azerbaijani Shiites, but also the other religious communities of the country. The second speech was mainly addressed to the Egyptian Sunni Muslims. Finally, the third was addressed to a wider interreligious audience made of a Muslim majority, yet including not only Christians but also representatives of the ancient Mesopotamian religions.

What Pope Francis is proposing and implementing is not an approach that forgets differences and identities in order to equalize all. Instead, it is a call to be faithful to one’s own religious identity in order to reject any instrumentalization of religion to foment hatred, division, terrorism, discrimination, and at the same time, to witness in increasingly secularized societies that we need God.

In Baku, before the Sheikh of the Muslims of the Caucasus and representatives of other religious communities in the country, Pope Francis recalled the “great task” of religions: that of “accompanying men and women looking for the meaning of life, helping them to understand that the limited capacities of the human being and the goods of this world must never become absolutes.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM VATICAN NEWS

In Iraq, pope hopes to encourage Christians and build bridges to Muslims

On his historic visit to Iraq in March, Pope Francis hopes to encourage his Christian flock, badly bruised by sectarian conflict and brutal Islamic State attacks, while building further bridges to Muslims by extending fraternal peace.

The trip’s papal logo reflects this, depicting Pope Francis with Iraq’s notable Tigris and Euphrates rivers, a palm tree and a dove carrying an olive branch over the Vatican and Iraqi flags. The motto: “You are all brothers,” is written in Arabic, Chaldean and Kurdish languages.

The first-ever papal visit to the biblical land of Iraq, set to take place from 5th to 8th March, is significant. For years, the pope has expressed his concerns publicly for the plight and persecution of Iraq’s Christians and its mosaic of many religious minorities, including the Yazidis, who have suffered at the hands of Islamic State militants and have been caught in the crosshairs of Sunni and Shi’ite Muslim violence.

Tensions persist between Iraq’s majority Shiite and minority Sunni Muslim communities, with the latter now feeling disenfranchised following the 2003 downfall of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim who marginalised Shi’ites for 24 years under his minority rule.

“I am the pastor of people who are suffering,” Pope Francis told Catholic News Service ahead of his visit.

Earlier, the pope said he hoped Iraq could “face the future through the peaceful and shared pursuit of the common good on the part of all elements of society, including the religious, and not fall back into hostilities sparked by the simmering conflicts of the regional powers.”

“The pope will come to say, ‘Enough, enough war, enough violence; seek peace and fraternity and the safeguarding of human dignity,’” said Cardinal Louis Sako, the Baghdad-based patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church. The cardinal reportedly has worked for several years to see the pope’s trip to Iraq come to fruition.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CATHOLIC UNIVERSE

First Muslim to ever present a papal encyclical praises ‘Fratelli Tutti’

“I was really very moved when I first read Pope Francis’s message. I felt that the pope is representing me in every word, in everything he said,” Judge Mohamed Mahmoud Abdel Salem, a Muslim, told America in an interview after speaking at the Vatican presentation of the pope’s new encyclical “Fratelli Tutti,” on Oct. 4.

He is the first Muslim ever to present a papal encyclical. Advisor to the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayeb, he is now secretary general of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity set up to promote that historic document which the two religious leaders signed in Abu Dhabi on Feb. 4, 2019.

He views the pope’s encyclical as “the guide to putting into practice the Human Fraternity document,” and he considers the latter as “the constitution” for fostering Christian-Muslim relations. “I see both documents as a very strong barrier against hatred and racism, and evil in general,” he said. “The real Islam and the real Christianity is against intolerance and these negative forces,” he stated.

He said, “The thing that really impressed me is his talk about human dignity, when addressing the causes of migration and the displacement of people, he said that human dignity was trampled upon, lost at the border between the developed world [Europe] and the Third World.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM AMERICA.COM

Pope Francis joins Muslim leaders in calling for world day of prayer to end the coronavirus

CNS-RAMADAN-VATICAN.jpgPope Francis calls on believers of all religions to pray together on May 14 to ask God to rid the world of the pandemic and asks that the vaccines to be made available to all infected persons.

Pope Francis has endorsed the call to “the believers of all the religions to unite together spiritually on May 14 in a day of prayer and fasting, to implore God to help humanity overcome the coronavirus pandemic.”

He also encouraged international cooperation to respond to the crisis, and emphasized the importance that scientific efforts to find a vaccine be put together in “a transparent and disinterested way” and that “the essential technologies be made universally available” so that every infected person may be able to receive the medical care needed.

The appeal calls on believers in God worldwide to hold “a day for fasting, prayers, and supplications” on May 14.

He focused on these two issues when he addressed a virtual global audience by Vatican Media from the library of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace at midday on Sunday, May 3.

In his address, he repeated the call for an interreligious day of prayer saying, “Remember, May 14, all believers together, believers of the different [religious] traditions, to pray, to fast, and to do works of charity.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM AMERICANMAGAZINE.ORG

This Syrian Catholic priest was kidnapped and tortured by ISIS. He still has hope in humanity.

SYRIAN CATHOLIC PRIESTIt became clear that I would need to follow the Rev. Jacques Mourad around all day. To the kitchen, where he was preparing kebab with eggplants or demonstrating how to cut onions just so or washing dishes. To the chapel, where he was picking away wax collecting on candle holders. To the classrooms, where he was nodding his head as nuns from India attempted to recite the Mass in Arabic that he has spent months teaching them. To the door, which he was always leaning out of, calling to someone in the street.

There was nothing too small, or nothing small enough, to occupy Father Jacques, for he believed that God was captured best in simplicity. The woman called by name. The prayer in the chapel, where only two of us had gathered beneath the rising Iraqi sunlight. The coffee filled exactly to the correct level.

We are in the upstairs classroom, where he is seated at the head of a table, reciting the Mass in the Chaldean rite from a prayer book, carefully pronouncing the words in Arabic and Aramaic, waiting as the nuns recite them in return. He pauses, flustered. The translation from Arabic to English that they have been consulting is not accurate. The word hanan has been translated as “to pity.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM AMERICA MAGAZINE