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 according to which “in order to obtain the help of certain American and European Christian groups, they adopt ideas that militate against coexistence, exaggerate the suffering of Christians and promote theory of systematic persecution by Muslims. “Other ecclesial subjects rely entirely on the strategy of” alliance between minorities “or on the protection of authoritarian regimes as the only means of ensuring the survival of indigenous Christian communities in the Middle -Orient. These are deceptive 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 his earthly life. new ”.
The long and dense contribution, divided into one hundred paragraphs, is presented as a systematic attempt to examine in depth the current condition of Christian communities in the Arab-Middle Eastern context. It 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, made public today during an official presentation held in the conference hall of the Church of Sant’Elia, in Antelias (Lebanon), is the result of a long work carried out by an ecumenical team of specialists. in theology, social sciences and geopolitics questions, “Men and women, ordained ministers and lay people, who wanted to confront each other with frankness and freedom also” on questions that some may deem inappropriate for a public debate “.
The team, which took as their 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 of Churches of the Middle -Orient, and the Maronite priest Rouphael Zgheib, national director of the pontifical missionary works of Lebanon.
In many passages, the document breaks with the stereotypes which condition and blur the dominant representation in the Western media concerning the Christian communities of the Middle East, always presented as “minorities” under siege and in need of external protection, of nature. financial or geopolitical.
Christians in the Middle East – the authors of the document acknowledge – face enormous urgencies and provocations “which confront us with choices upon which our existence and future presence depend.” The “gradual erasure of our presence and our testimony” makes it “imperative to undertake a thorough examination of our situation, based on a calm critical reading”. In the geopolitical convulsions of the Middle East, analyzed by the document with lucid historical references to the seasons of the Arab “renaissance” and the “Islamic awakening”, the document points out that the most insidious risk for the current Middle Eastern Christian communities consists in “reductionist approach based exclusively on the logic of the majority and the minority”. A distorted reading of the reality which pushes some to seek protection “through an” alliance of the minorities “, seeing there the guarantee of a presence Christianity continues in the Middle East. “An option which – the authors of the document argue – in the long term” distorts a true Christian witness “, which is not” based on the use of religion as a political tool, nor on the demand for specific rights or privileges to maintain a rigid identity, but rather on openness to the other in dialogue “.
The long document realistically describes the consequences of sectarianism and religious fanaticism as devastating factors for any “living with diversity” project that rediscovers the “plural” matrix of the history of the peoples and civilizations of the Middle East. It is recognized that the Christian communities of the countries of the region live in societies “steeped in Islam”, and where “Islam has become an intrinsic factor” also for the paths taken by the preaching of the Gospel. It is emphasized that the emigration of Christians, which has intensified over the last decades, cannot be interpreted exclusively as a direct effect of the rise of violent Islamist movements, while many factors of “internal weakness” are also present. pointed out with realism that weigh on apostolic life. the spirit of ecclesial institutions and realities. Among other things, it is recognized that “the language used by the religious establishment, in many cases, is still far from the daily reality, the sufferings and fears of local Christians”, and loses its own power of attraction for them. young generations are developing radically, among which is developing a tendency to indifferentism and even to atheism, not yet “registered” by ordinary pastoral directives. The document describes in critical terms the cases of competition between ecclesiastical institutions engaged full-time in the search for financial resources to ensure their own survival, and in several passages deplores the way in which ecclesiastical institutions relate to political powers, which are often dominated. by fractional and fractional interests, a minority mentality and a search for narrow sectarian conquests ”. Among the “bad solutions” experienced to solve the problems of Christian communities in the Middle East, the document indicates the tendency for church representatives and groups “to adhere to totalitarian ideologies, to authoritarian regimes”, or to the race. to “occupy positions of influence, and acquire authoritarian advantages and protections”, arguing that this can “ensure the continuity and value of their presence in the Middle East”.
In addition to the critical remarks, the document also proposes constructive avenues to be experimented with in order to face the emergencies which besiege Christian communities in the Middle East. The document returns in many passages the call to rediscover the treasure of its own ecclesial traditions: “Most of the historical Churches of the Middle East” note the authors of the text “are patriarchal or synodal. Both systems are inspired by the idea of synodality. , which, in its original sense, refers to communion and walking together “.
These traditional features of the ecclesial life of Eastern communities must be recuperated today, while “unfortunately today in our Churches we often see the people of God – especially women and young people – marginalized in decision-making. important. We often see the growth of an authoritarian spirit, which nullifies shared responsibility, balanced government and the spirit of responsibility between the people and their pastors. ”According to the authors of the document, the ecclesial life of Middle Eastern communities must be liberate “from practices which reduce women to second-class beings, practices contrary to the spirit of the Gospel. In addition, Christians in the Middle East” should refuse to adhere to dictatorial political regimes, whether they are ideologically secular, theocratic or feudal, or identify with them. They must also refuse a “minority alliance” and the choice to protect themselves. ”The perspective suggested is that of recognizing the community of destiny of Christians with their fellow citizens. confessions and “to promote their involvement in the public sphere and the struggle for a civil state”, governed by the principle of citizenship and equality. A State “of modern civil law”, capable of embracing and integrating all the “diversities” and pluralities of the Middle East. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 9/28/2021)