Antioch patriarchs tell Christians: Don’t leave, you belong in the Middle East
Source: Christian Today
13 June 2015
Catholic and Orthodox church leaders are calling on Christians in the Middle East to remain steadfast in their faith and to stay in the land of their birth, reaffirming that Christians have a place in the Muslim-dominated region.
Antioch patriarchs tell Christians: Don’t leave, you belong in Mideast
Mideast Patriarchs urge world to help Christians survive
The five Christian patriarchs of the Church of Antioch, one of the five major churches that composed the Christian Church before the East-West Schism, met in the Syrian capital of Damascus on Monday in a show of Christian unity and steadfastness.
They met at the headquarters of the local Greek Orthodox archdiocese in Damascus, a break from their usual meeting in Lebanon, to reassure all Christians of the region, the Catholic News Agency reported.
“We do not condemn those that choose to leave, but we remind Christians that steadfastness in faith often entails a great deal of tribulation,” they said in a joint statement after their meeting.
“We call on everyone who claims to have an interest in our fate to help us to remain,” said the leaders, namely Gregory III Laham (Melkite Greek Catholic), Bechara Rai (Maronite), Ignatius III Younan (Syriac Catholic), John X Yazigi (Greek Orthodox), and Ignatius Aphrem II (Syriac Orthodox).
They described themselves as the authentic people of the land who are “deeply rooted in its earth that was watered by the sweat of our fathers and grandfathers, and we confirm more than ever that we are staying.”
The apostolic nuncio to Syria also attended the meeting.
The Syrian civil war and the conflict in Iraq have disrupted the lives of Muslims and Christians. Both conflicts have claimed many lives and forced millions of Iraqis and Syrians to be displaced from their homes.
The Christian patriarchs asked Syrians to support the campaign to promote Syrian unity as well as “the right of Syrians to determine freely their own future without foreign interference” and a “political settlement of the Syrian crisis.”
The leaders also asked the international community “to take its responsibility and to stop the wars in our land,” emphasising the need for peace. They also called for the return of refugees and the abducted back to their homes.
As the Islamic State continues to pose a serious threat to the lives of both Christians and Muslims, the patriarchs pushed for better relations with Muslims, saying Islamic extremism in any form must be opposed by teaching “a culture of openness, peace and freedom of belief.”
Macarius and the Pony
By Thomas Merton
People in a village
At the desert's edge
Had a daughter
Who was changed (they thought)
By magic arts
Into a pony.
At first they berated her
"Why do you have to be a horse?"
She could think of no reply.
So they led her out with a halter
Into the hot waste land
Where there was a saint
Living in a cell.
"Father" they said
"This young mare here
Is, or was, our daughter.
Enemies, wicked men,
Magicians, have made her
The animal you see.
Now by your prayers to God
Change her back
Into the girl she used to be."
"My prayers" said Macarius,
"Will change nothing,
For I see no mare.
Why do you call this good child
But he led her into his cell
With her parents:
There he spoke to God
Anointing the girl with oil;
And when they saw with what love
He placed his hand upon her head
They realized, at once.
She was no animal.
She had never changed.
She had been a girl from the beginning.
"Your own eyes
Are your enemies.
Your own crooked thoughts
(said the anchorite)
Change people around you
Into birds and animals.
Your own ill-will
(said the clear-eyed one)
Peoples the world with spectres.”
-- from “Raids on the Unspeakable”
New Directions, 1963
"Today, dear brothers and sisters, the cry of God’s people goes up once again from this city, the cry of all men and women of good will: war never again!"
‘War Never Again’: Pope Francis in Sarajevo
June 06, 2015 (ZENIT.org)
Here is a Vatican translation of Pope Francis' homily during the Mass he celebrated which begun at 11 a.m. this morning at Koševo Stadium during his apostolic visit to Sarajevo:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The word peace echoes several times through the Scripture readings which we have just heard. It is a powerful, prophetic word! Peace is God’s dream, his plan for humanity, for history, for all creation. And it is a plan which always meets opposition from men and from the evil one. Even in our time, the desire for peace and the commitment to build peace collide against the reality of many armed conflicts presently affecting our world. They are a kind of third world war being fought piecemeal and, in the context of global communications, we sense an atmosphere of war.
Some wish to incite and foment this atmosphere deliberately, mainly those who want conflict between different cultures and societies, and those who speculate on wars for the purpose of selling arms. But war means children, women and the elderly in refugee camps; it means forced displacement of peoples; it means destroyed houses, streets and factories; it means, above all, countless shattered lives. You know this well, having experienced it here: how much suffering, how much destruction, how much pain! Today, dear brothers and sisters, the cry of God’s people goes up once again from this city, the cry of all men and women of good will: war never again!
Within this atmosphere of war, like a ray of sunshine piercing the clouds, resound the words of Jesus in the Gospel: “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt5:9). This appeal is always applicable, in every generation. He does not say: “Blessed are the preachers of peace”, since all are capable of proclaiming peace, even in a hypocritical, or indeed duplicitous, manner. No. He says: “Blessed are the peacemakers”, that is, those who make peace. Crafting peace is a skilled work: it requires passion, patience, experience and tenacity. Blessed are those who sow peace by their daily actions, their attitudes and acts of kindness, of fraternity, of dialogue, of mercy... These, indeed, “shall be called children of God”, for God sows peace, always, everywhere; in the fullness of time, he sowed in the world his Son, that we might have peace! Peacemaking is a work to be carried forward each day, step by step, without ever growing tired.
So how does one do this, how do we build peace? The prophet Isaiah reminds us succinctly: “The effect of righteousness will be peace” (32:17). Opus justitiae pax (“the work of justice is peace”), from the Vulgate version of Scripture, has become a famous motto, even adopted prophetically by Pope Pius XII. Peace is a work of justice. Here too: not a justice proclaimed, imagined, planned... but rather a justice put into practice, lived out. The Gospel teaches us that the ultimate fulfilment of justice is love: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Mt 22:39; Rm 13:9).
When, by the grace of God, we truly follow this commandment, how things change! Because we ourselves change! Those whom I looked upon as my enemy really have the same face as I do, the same heart, the same soul. We have the same Father in heaven. True justice, then, is doing to others what I would want them to do to me, to my people (cf. Mt 7:12).
Saint Paul, in the second reading, shows us the attitude needed to make peace: “Put on then... compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col 3:12-13).
These are the attitudes necessary to become artisans of peace precisely where we live out our daily lives. But we should not fool ourselves into thinking that this all depends on us! We would fall into an illusive moralizing. Peace is a gift from God, not in the magical sense, but because with his Spirit he can imprint these attitudes in our hearts and in our flesh, and can make us true instruments of his peace. And, going further, the Apostle says that peace is a gift of God because it is the fruit of his reconciliation with us. Only if we allow ourselves to be reconciled with God can human beings become artisans of peace.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, today we ask the Lord together, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, for the grace to have a simple heart, the grace of patience, the grace to struggle and work for justice, to be merciful, to work for peace, to sow peace and not war and discord. This is the way which brings happiness, which leads to blessedness
[Original text: Italian]
Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregory III: The EU Should Side with Damascus
Source: Notes on Arab Orthodoxy
Gregory III Lahham: We are Paying for the Mistakes of the EU and Obama
MELKITE CATHOLIC PATRIARCH GREGORY III | 22 MAY 2015
Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregory III: The EU Should Side with Damascus
The Italian Episcopal Conference has decided to dedicate the Vigil of Pentecost on May 23 to “today’s martyrs”. That is, to the Christians who are persecuted throughout the world, a drama without geographical limits, even if it is particularly serious in areas of Syria and Iraq controlled by the Islamic State. After having killed or expelled thousands of Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities, the Caliphate launched an offensive to conquer the Iraqi city of Ramadi. Yesterday Syrian Air Force fighters continued to bomb the suburbs of Palmyra, a Syrian city where violent clashes are taking place between the regular army and ISIS fighters. The ruins from the Greek and Roman periods make Palmyra one of the wonders of humanity, which are now at risk of disappearing if the city falls to the Islamic State. For Gregory III Lahham, a Syrian Catholic patriarch with his see in Damascus, “those who want to destroy the remains of Sumerian civilization, the historic site of Palmyra, and the Christian churches of Syria are not acting against this religion or that but against human values.”
On May 23 prayers will be held for all “today’s martyrs”. How is the situation of Christians in Syria?
The war that is taking place in Syria is a tragedy for everyone, since Christians and Muslims, Sunnis and Shi’ites, Druze and Yezidis are all under attack. The situation is particularly tragic in Aleppo, whose churches have all been destroyed or seriously damaged. The entire city has been turned into an enormous prison that is impossible to either enter or exit.
How is the situation in the capital and surrounding regions?
Damascus is not at risk of incursions on the ground but fears bombardments. The situation in Christian villages like Maaloula at the moment is calm. Currently, the battle is particularly violent around Palmyra and the North is also in danger.
Syria has been experiencing war for four years. How are Christians living during this period?
Christians live in the strong hope of peace shared by all Syrians of good will. It cannot be said that what is happening in Syria is a persecution against Christians. This is what is happening in Iraq, while Syrian Christians are victims of war rather than victims of persecution, even if we Christians, since we are a group that is weaker than others, are more exposed to this tragedy.
What can Western Christians do for their Syrian brothers?
There is need for material aid, so that the Syrian churches can be close to their faithful, especially the refugees. For example, my patriarchate in Damascus has to spend between 40 and 50 thousand dollars a month for refugees. But there is also a need for constant contact between the episcopal conferences of the major European countries and the local church in Syria.
In what way?
I invite the Italian bishops to come and pray with us in Damascus because this would be a symbolic gesture of enormous value. Moreover, helping the Christians means working for peace. The Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, the Oriental churches, the Anglicans and the Protestants should sign a declaration for peace in Syria, in Iraq and in Palestine.
How do you assess the advances of ISIS in Palmyra and Ramadi?
This is a question that should be addressed to a general, not to me. War is war, it goes back and forth. ISIS is strong insofar as it is supported by so many countries, whether Arab or European. The United States should be more serious and help the Syrian government.
Syria is a nation, not a regime. I do not understand why Washington aids the so-called “moderate” rebel factions, which are made moderate, so to speak. Today we should all recognize that we have no alternative. This Syrian opposition is divided and corrupt and therefore it is useless to aid an element that is so weak, because this makes more victims among the Syrian population.
What do you mean when you state the ISIS is aided by European countries?
We know that every day there are young Italians, English and French who are leaving for Syria with the intention of joining the ranks of fundamentalist groups. I would not call these organizations Islamic because they are purely military groups. It is not a war between Islam and Christianity, but rather a struggle for human values. those who want to destroy the remains of Sumerian civilization, the historic site of Palmyra, and the Christian churches of Syria are not acting against this religion or that but against human values.
What responsibilities do European states have for the young people who are joining ISIS?
The point is that the European Union lacks a single position and is not working seriously for peace in the Middle East. The EU is indecisive and is not taking effective steps to end the war. If the 28 countries had a single strong position, it would be possible to put an end to ISIS’ influence in the Middle East. The Arab world is divided because Europe is divided. The most effective bulwark against ISIS is the Syrian state and therefore if the EU clearly sided with Damascus, it could truly contribute to putting an end to ISIS. There should be a common declaration of the EU in support of the Syrian government.