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

Presence of mission and witness

18. Our Christian presence is not a presence for our own sake alone. Christ did not found his Church in its own service, but that it might be a confessing Church with a mission, the same mission as that of her founder and Master. The failure to live the spirit of mission and witness in our lives as Christians and our ecclesiastical progress would constitute a renunciation of our selves and of the mission to which the Saviour has called us. The Church will be the true Church of Christ in so far as she is a sign of the saving love or the Father for mankind, by the grace Of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ defined the sense of our presence when he said, " You will be my witnesses" (Acts 1:8). And the Apostles responded to this call, "of this we are all witnesses" (Acts 2:32). His Holiness Pope John Paul 11 has described this form of Christian and ecclesiastical life: " The witness of a Christian life is the first and irreplaceable form of mission: Christ whose mission we continue is the "witness" par excellence (Rev 1:5; 3:14) and the model of all Christian witness... Christians and Christian communities are very much part of the life of their respective nations and can be a sign of the Gospel in their fidelity to their native land, people and national culture while always preserving the freedom brought by Christ (Encyclical letter "Redemptoris Missio", 42-43). Witness to the evangelical beatitudes is the first path of the Gospels to the heart of man and his conscience. If in the past the Christian communities in the East have turned in on themselves because of the constraints of the historical conditions, and lost the sense of mission and witness, content merely with the effort to survive, today they are called to free themselves from the after-effects of the past in order to incorporate a sense to open which witness brings brings person of mission into their lives, themselves up to the world surrounds them and bear to the buried treasure that joy to their hearts, as it joy to the heart of every (cf. Mt 13:44 46).

Light, salt and leaven

19. The teaching of our Lord and Saviour calls us to such a manner of witness when he ca]ls us to be light: "You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a larnpstand where it gives light to all in the house. Just so your light must shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father" (My 5:14-16) And salt: You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot" (Mt 5:13). And leaven: The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened (Mt 13:33). If the light is removed from the house, it loses the sense of its existence. If the salt is separated from the food it is useless. If the leaven is removed from the dough, it hardens and decays. When we are no longer light, salt and leaven, we become an inert, solid entity, a dead weight for ourselves and our society.

"Do not be afraid, little flock"

20. The Gospel words we have quoted contain a great message of joy for the Christians in the East. If we read them in the light of our AI-Bushra condition as a minority in our societies, they are capable of trans- forming that condition. The sociological fact which weighs upon our psychology, the way in which we look upon the other, and the other looks upon us, is trans- formed into an element of witness and mission lived in joy and faith. The light in the house might be weak, but it gives light to the whole house. Salt is a minor element in food, but it flavours all of it. The leaven is a tiny proportion of the dough, but it causes it to rise, preparing it to become bread. We recall what we told you in our first message, " The Church is not measured in numbers. She does not depend on statistics but on the awareness which her sons and daughters have of their own vocation and mission. The time has come for us to transform this quantitative factor into a qualitative element. Spiritual energy must take the place of the weight of numbers. In this way we must free ourselves from everything that our historical condition as a minority may have produced as deadly psychological and social after-effects as a temptation to turn in on ourselves as lack of self-confidence and trust in society as a persecution complex marginalization and dissolution. "Do not be afraid little flock" (Lk 12:32). The first Christians who came to life in our countries were but a small minority, but they were marked by the vitality of the new man, by their enthusiasm and joy. Everyone looked on them with admiration and wonder, They enjoyed tavour with all the people (Acts 2:47). The idea that people have of us depends, in one way or another, on the quality and intensity of our presence, not on the greater or lesser number of our communities. A Personal faith

21. Our Christian presence is intimately connected to the quality of our faith, to its depth and in- tensity. Faith is a gift from God granted to us in Jesus Christ. The Lord entrusted this precious deposit to his Apostles, who in turn handed it on to their successors. The succeeding generations of Christians have handed on this deposit without stain or reproach" (~1'iin 6:~4). This they have done not with standing the risks, the historic changes and difficulties. We can but give thanks to God for the courage, the perseverance, the patience and wisdom shown by our Churches in the Middle East, enabling them to safeguard the deposit which has come down to us as a living thing. Succeeding gene rations have also enriched this deposit with their thought, their heritage, their cWture and way of life, their witness and, in many cases, their martyrdom. There can be no doubt that modem challenges and the profound changes taking place around us are calling on us to renew our fidelity to our faith. What we have received from our fathers must be transformed into a conscious, free, responsi~e and active acceptance. We observe that faith today faces rea] challenges in the important changes being effected in traditional social structures. These structures no longer contribute as they did in the past to the preservation and strengthening of our faith. Faith which is merely an inheritance, and is not transformed in to a deep personal conviction, is not enough to meet the challenges of the present day. It is, rather, personal faith blossoming in the Church which will make it into a living community. Hence, its existence is no longer related to ephemeral, changing social arrangements, but to divine love which bTings Ils together in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Formation in the Faith

22. To move from a faith which is a mere inheritance to that of a personal commitment depends, to a certain extent, on the deepening of faith through formation. Ignorance or superficiality in matters of faith can lead to its loss. Thi~ is particularly true as regards to the deep changes in the life styles of our modern-day societies. Even here in the East, we are experiencing radical changes in the traditional climate which in the past helped to safeguard and strengthen our faith. For the believer, not to know his faith means not to know himself. When the believer does not know himself, he loses his identity, his vocation and his mission. Likewise, the community of the faithful loses its authenticity and becomes a social body deprived of its living interaction with its divine roots. In this regard, those initiatives dedicated to deepening religious knowledge, awareness of the Church and spiritual experiences in ad~ts, both within ordinary institutions and in specialized centers, are wortny or every praise. we appeal for these efforts to be continued and intensified, and for them to be provided with the necessary human and material means. This will contribute to the formation of a new generation of faithful who can grasp the meaning of their behngtrtg to Christ, to their Church and to their society. In this way, too, their understanding of their faith will include all aspects of their public and personal lives, enriching and vivifying them.