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

Different fields of service

37. As we observe the Church, we see that social and humanitarian service is one of the most visible aspects of her mission. This service takes care of the varied needs that affect man: material, cultural, social, and development needs. We say this not in order to boast of it, but to renew both our solidarity with all kinds of suffering and needs, and our commitment to do everything in our power to alleviate human suffering in all its forms. Moreover, our Churches are vigilant to detect negative aspects of this action, in order to purify it, and conform their service more closely to the spirit of Christ and the Gospel. Further-more, we call on all the faithful, and particularly the social services, to pay attention to the demands of society, to discover its new needs and open up new areas of action. This action will thus accompany social progress and identify its trials its needs and its aspirations. In doing so, it has but one objective: that of edifying man, a man aware of his being and dignity, by confronting him with the basic truth that every person is created in the image of God and his dignity stems from this divine resemblance.

In serving every person in need, our Churches are not acting Out of self-interest, and most certain]y have no hidden agenda. They are at the service of every person who suffers, simply because he is a per- son, and hence represents the suf fering of Christ crucified throughout human history.

A renewed outlook

38. We therefore repeat our appeal to the faithful and the social institutions in the Church to renew their view of society and reexamine the services they offer, so that these different services be guided by the genuine charity from which they draw their inspiration and which gives them life. The time has come to set up a permanent system to coordinate all who work in this field, both individuals and organisms, and to review their activities periodically, so that they may continue to develop and satisfy new needs. We likewise invite them to cooperate with all those who work in this field Social, humanitarian service is a privileged place for dialogue and mutual assistance between Christians of different dcnominations and all members of society. It pertains to the suffering person to bring us all together in unity. This requires the creation of specialized centers capable of playing their role competently and effectively. We would like to direct a special message of encouragement and affection to all those who so generously dedicate themselves to working in the different areas of social service, particularly those that involve difficu]ties and sacrifice.

V. Ecumenical Presence

"We will be Christians together or we will not exist!!

39. This declaration appeared in our first message, and we wish to recall the context in which it was said. It is addressed to all our Christian brothers and sisters.

"Our Easierni Churches are distinguishied by their antiquity, their patrimonies, the variety of their liturgical expressions, the authenticity of their spiritualities, the breadth of their theo]ogical horizons and the force of their centuries-old witness which has somtimes reached the heroism of martyrs. All this represents a living experience which we bear in our hearts, a powerfu] stimulus for our hope and a source of confidence and perseverance from which we draw in looking to the future.

Diversity is an essetial characteristic of the universal Church, as it is of the Christian East. Th is diver- sity has always been a source of richness for the whole Church when we have experienced in it the unity of faith and charity. Unfortunately, this diversity has been changedinto divergences and separation because of human sin and human rejection of Christ's spirit. Nevertheless, what unites us is even stronger and more important than what dviides us. It does not prevent us frommeeting each other and helping one another. The Christianity of the East, in spite of its divisions represents a fundamental unity in faith, which nothing can break. We are Christians together, in good times and in bad. Our vocation is one, our witness is one and our destiny is one as well. We are thus required to work together in the different ways avai]able and, in a spirit of fraternity and love, to give fundamental reaffirmation to the faithful who have been entrusted to us. We must do this in the various areas where we are compelled by the common good of Christians, as well as by the aspirations of all the believers of our various Churches, who put great hope in our rapprochement and our mutual assistairce.

In the East we will be Christians together or we will not exist. Certainly, interecciesial relations have not always been well- founded in our region. There are many reasons for this, both internal and external. But time has come to cleanse our memory of the bad effects of the past, however painful they may be, aud to look towards the future together, in the spirit of Christ and in the light of his Gospel and the teaching of the apostles.

"That all may be One"

40. Having recalled this commitment of ours last summer, we wish to encourage this ecumenical orientation which, in truth and ove, wisdom and humility, seeks to AL-Bushra bn~ng about unity of faith and eucharistic communion for all those who believe in Chn~st, Christ's tunic will thus once more be seamless. Many of the divisions in the Church have, for a variety of rca sons, originated in the East. These divisions have often been accompanied by a hatred and rancour contrary to the Spirit of Christ. Indeed, we believe that Christ's call to unity, That they may be one just as we are. that the world may believe that you sent me" ~Jni /1 i-2#) is an appeal directced in the first place to the con- science of all of us in the East. We are entreated to set aside the logic of division and follow the path of convergence and unity. "When God wills, and as he wills", this will come about with respect for the patrimony and legitimate characteristics of each ecciesial tradition. In this East of ours, unity is not a luxury, or a mere academic question. Its absence is a wound afflicting our fatthflit every day. They hope for the multiplication of efforts to bind up this wound which para]yzes us and restricts our Christian witness.

Ecumenical Instittulons

41. We rejoice to see the growth of ecumenical movements and institutions in the Christian world, and the initiatives in multilateral dialogue undertaken as result in the East and in the West. We accompany them with our prayer, our interest and our encouragement, that they might produce the longed for fruits, whenever they are based on solid, clear principles. As far as the East is concerned, there can be no doubt that

"The Middle East Council of Churches", which the Catholic Churches in the Middle East joined in 1990, is in the vanguard of ecumenical institutions in our region. The importance of its role in the service of Christians and man in our societies is destined to increase. As the foundational charter declares, the Council is intended to purify the Christian presence, bring about a spiritual renewal, direct its actions towards bringing about Christian unity, manifest community witness, develop mutual cooperation in the. area of social service and monitor questions related to justice and peace. We renew the commitment to the Council, which we made in our previous message. We undertand it to be a place "for meeting together and seeking the common denominators whiefr favour a collective presence and a common witness in our beloved East", it being understood that this presence and witness is not for our own benefit, but for the glory of God and the service of man in our society. Our unity is to be a living sign of fraternal meeting among all God's children in this part of the world. Hence, we will use all our strength to support the initiatives the Council undertakes in all its sections, so that our mutual cooperation becomes a feature of our ecclesial life and our pastoral activity. The "Council or Catholic Patriarchs of the Middle East" is situated within the same context and spirit. It was established in August 1991, as a channel of fraternal communion between Christians in the East. Its role will be to confirm and deepen communication and unity between all the Churches in the region, as is also the case with other local or regional councils or organisms, whether Catholic, non-Catholic or ecumenical, and it will cooperate with them.