The Christian Presence in the Middle East Witness and Mission: A Continuing Series

Collegial Pastoral letter of the Catholic Patriarchs of the Middle East to their Faithful in their different countries of Residence

42. Institutions are not enough. They require a genuine ecumenical spirit. Ecumenical action is first a Gospel spirituality, before being an action deployed on the ground. We recall the characteristics of this spirituality as they have been defined in the decree of Vatican Council II on ecumenism. This spirituality is based on the interior renewal of our Churches, thus providing a guarantee and a sign of success for the ecumenical movement. It is based on "a change of heart," as the movement to unity will make progress only in so tar as we live more transparent lives in accordance with the Gospel, and live a closer union with the Father, the Word and the Spirit. It consists of a search for mutual fraternal knowledge, free from over-hasty assessments and preconceived ideas (ef. Decree on Ecumenism n. 6,7,9). These spiritual guidelines aim to purify our hearts, and enable us to meet our brothers and sisters, not weighed down by our fears and suspicions, but in the Spirit of Christ who has set us free from all that prevents us from seeing in the other a brother in the faith.

Difficulties and pitfalls

43. lt is clear that relations between the Churches and ecumenical progress arc hindered by a number of difficulties, pitfalls and problems. Some may be real obstacles, and some a question of suspicions, of fears, of misundersandings or negative interpretations that are the legacy of centuries of Church divisions. These difficulties appear in ihe pastoral field and other areas of daily life. Difficulties of this kind demand from us a sincere, fraternal explanation, in the Spirit of Christ and of the Gospel. Such a Gospel climate will help to create an environment, to prepare the ground for overcoming the difficulties which obstruct us. It is highly desirable that in every diocese a council should be set up in which these difficulties could be studied as they appear, and serve as a means of exchange and cooperation in all those areas which are in the interest of the faithful and our common witness.

A fervent, fraternal appeal

44. In the present day the conditions in which the Christians of the Middle East live, with all their chaUen.2e5. are by no means easy. It is no jess certain tnar we ale Liii- able to meet these challenges alone. We must coordinate with all the initiatives of the other Christian Churches, especially our sister Orthodox Churches, for whom we have the greatest love, esteem and respect. The difficulties of the past, with the bitterness they have sown In human hearts, cannot be allowed to be an obstacle to fraternal exchanges for the good of Christians and their fellow-citizens in our lands. We make a fervent, fraternal appeal to all the Christian Churches to come together, to find one another. How could we reject any sincere effort to cooperate in all those areas that affect the lives of believers? In this way, we will attain unity of love while we await the great day when God grants us the gift of unity in faith which Christ desired for his Church.

The dimensions of dialogue

45. Throughout the course of the Economy of Salvation, the East Ecumenical spirit AL-Bushra has been the land of dialogue between God and man. This dinlogue reaches its culmination in Christ, God and Man. In Him, humanity is raised up to its Creator, and God draws close to His children1 the whole of mankind. The permanent dialogue he establishes with them is a reflection of the eternal dialogue of the three divine persons in the heart of the Blessed Trinity. Furthermore, God has entered into a dialogue with the man in 3esus Christ so that men can maintain a dialogue amongst themselves: "flat now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity." (Eph 2.13,14). Hence, "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesits." (Ga] 3:28).

The Church of dialogue

46. In Vatican Council II, the Church proclaimed that her identity, her vocation and her mission Mi led her to be a Church of dia logue. In the post-conciliar period that has been seen in a series of openings to the world of our time and in all directions. The organisms required to transform this orientation into action have been set up. For their part, our countries have always been a plce of openings, of the passage of civilizations, with everything that this implies with regards to reconci]iation and antagonisms, complemantarity and conflicts, contacts and confrontations. This has given rise to forms of civilization which we]come and incorporate pluralism. Thus, nowadays as in the past, a characteristic of our countries is religious, ethnic, cultural and church pluralism. In consequence, dialogue is their fundamental vocation and their greatest challenge. Having lived at the heart of this cultural and human diversity, our Churches see in it one of the signs of the times, which they must interpret in the light of their faith and mission. This is how they acknowledge the call to dialogue as their primary vocation. It is also how the Church is called to be a living sign of the unity of the human family in a divided world. In the times in which we live, religions are invited to play a positive role in solving mankind's problems, instead of being a place for dispute and massacres among the children of the one human family, of the same country.

The conditions for dialogue

47. Dialogue is first of all a spiritual attitude. Man is engaged in a dialogue with his God which elevates his soul and purifies his heart and conscience, and this is reflected in his dialogue within himself and with others, both as individuals and as communities. Dialogue is a spirituality which leads us from exclusion to assirn.. lation; from rejection to welcome; from placing into rigid categories to inclusion; from distorting the image of others to respect; from condemnation to mercy; from enmity to harmony; from rivalry to complementarity; from antipathy to encounter; and from hostility to fraternity. Dialogue with the other consists in knowing him, and acknowledging him as he sees himself. This means acknowledging him in the fullness of his personality, and welcoming him as the completion of ourselves rather than as an adversary, rival or enemy. This can be done only if all preconceived ideas, self-interest, and all kinds of egoism are rejected. In such a climate, dialogue becomes a shared wealth, and neither of the parties is required to renounde its identity or patrimony. It goes without saying that fanati25 cism in all its different forms, be it in the name of God, or of religion, the nation, confession, land, ethnic origins and language, or in the name of social or cultural affiliation, is the first enemy of dialogue. There is a great difference between the believer and the fanatic, The believer is in the service of God, whereas the fanatic makes use of God. The believer worships God, whereas the fanatic worships himselt while imagining he worships God. The believer hears the word of God; the fanatic distorts it. The believer raises himself to God's !evel; the fanatic brings God down to his own level. The believer fears God; the fanatic threatens others in the name of God. The believer honors God; the fanatic attacks His greatness. The believer does the will of God; the fanatic substitutes his own will for that of God. The believer is a grace for humanity; the fanatic is a scourge. Fanatism is a way of rejecting both God and humanity. In the fanatic, the energy of faith and love is transformed into the energy of hos&ity and rancour. He believes he is honoring God ~cks those who differ from him in religion, race, language, color or patrimony. In the believer, on the other hand, all his energy is used to bring people together, to cooperate and edify.