Patriarch Fouad Twal on Christians in the Middle East

Posted on Sep 30, 2015

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal

And just like Jesus on the Mount of Olives, we pray, we weep, we suffer, and we wait.  –Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal speaking for Christians in the Middle East

( and September 30, 2015 – Despite the desire for peace in Palestine, neither peace nor security has been won by the myriad of negotiations and wars of the past 70 years, Latin (Roman Catholic) Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal said.

Twal delivered a lecture on Tuesday, September 29 titled, “Middle East Christians’ Future: In Whose Hands” at Hesburgh Center Auditorium as part of the 2015-2016 Notre Dame Forum “Faith, Freedom and the Modern World: 50 Years After Vatican II.” The talk was hosted by the Center For Civil and Human Rights, and Twal was introduced by University President Fr. John Jenkins.

Twal, trained as a Christian diplomat, ministers in a part of the world where Christians feel oppressed, Jenkins said. Twal brings a message of peace, reconciliation and charity.

Twal first addressed the parlous state of the Christian minority in the Middle-East, with special attention to the situation in Palestine.

The Christian population of Palestine is a small minority, Twal said, and thus it cannot function effectively in isolation. The Catholics in Palestine alone operate over 115 schools, some of which have a majority Muslim student body.

“We cannot have a ghetto just for us Christians. Our mission cannot know borders,” Twal said.

He said there are many perils for the Christian community of the Levant, such as the Israeli bureaucracy’s mistreatment of Christian and many Muslims’ apathy towards the welfare of the Christian community, calling the Church of Jerusalem a Church of Calvary.

In spite of all the suffering of the Christian community, it is impossible to live, love and work in Jerusalem without Jesus and the vision of the cross, Twal said.

“In Jerusalem, He prayed, He worked and He wept,” Twal said.

Twal said although the Christian community of Jerusalem is often subject to persecution, it is also unmistakably a church of resurrection, empowered by its proximity to where He rose.

“I too am anxious for the future but [also] hope for a bright future,” Twal said, referring to the future prospects of the Christians of Palestine.

Twal’s lecture also spent time on the consequences of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a conflict that fatally undermines Israel’s claims of democracy so long as the occupation continues, Twal said.

“The vast majority of Palestinians are fighting for the same things Jews did,” Twal said.

The rights Palestinians seek are the rights of democracies, such as dignity, respect and justice, he said. These were the same values his Patriarchate has upheld and promoted for years. While he expressed pessimism about the viability of a two-state solution, the fundamental problem is still occupation, particularly while Jerusalem is still occupied territory, Twal said.

“Much is spoken [of peace], yet we have none,” Twal said. “ … In Palestine, there is no more credibility in the speech of politicians, and thus, changes requiring great sacrifice must come.”

“In Palestine, one thing is clear: the cycle of degradation and violence must be broken,” he said.

Twal said, the Middle-East is beset by politic without ethic and the dangerous rhetoric of extremists, lack of education, and the reckless profiteering of arms dealers are all contributing to the current disorder in the Middle-East

“In Jerusalem we are closely watching the events in the Arab World…our hearts are filled with sorrow with our brothers and sisters who are victims of violence,” Twal said, “In Jordan we have 1,400,000 Syrians…last year we received 8,000 Iraqi Christian people…for sure Syria needs reform, but 200,000 [were] killed because they want to change this regime, and the regime is still in good health.”

Twal said the Middle East is beset by a dark past and dark present, and he prays for the emergence of a genuine leader. Although he believes an educated population is one key step towards justice and peace, it’s clear the road to peace in the Holy Land is a long and difficult one.

“[Being] fair and balanced … I’m not sure that’s possible when we speak about the Holy Land,” Twal said.

In another development, Patriarch Twal had addressed a session of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia on September 25.

He said that Christian families in the Holy Land bear their daily suffering with hope, knowing that the cross is the cost of following Christ.

“We are a Church of Calvary, and it is something that we have to accept,” he said. “Jesus says all who follow him will have to pick up their cross,” he continued. “We must take these words seriously. If we want to follow him, we have our daily cross.”

The Latin-rite archbishop of Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories contributed to a panel at the international four-day congress on the theme, “The Way of the Cross, the Way of the Heart: Suffering and the Family.”

Patriarch Twal said the causes of the suffering experienced by families in the Holy Land are many: the confiscation and occupation of lands, the Israeli separation barrier, travel restrictions, checkpoints, administrative detentions, emigration, religious fanaticism and radicalism.

“More than ever, religious fundamentalism and violence in the name of God is the worst of all our challenges,” he said.

The security barrier or wall, which separates families and parishes, is an expression of “other walls in the heart of the human being, distrust and misunderstanding,” he said.

He spoke of a parish priest whose mother died because Israeli officials did not allow her through a checkpoint for dialysis.

Recently described as a “wall of shame” by an Italian pilgrim, he said, it is “more than shameful” that “many people who come to visit don’t see the wall and don’t even want to see it.” An entire generation of Christians only knows this reality, he said.

Many Christian families, however, have decided to leave. Today, only about 10,000 Christians live in Jerusalem, compared with about 250,000 Muslims and 500,000 Jews, he said.

The families that left are among the almost 20 million people worldwide today who have fled their homeland because of war, persecution, and oppression, he said.
“And every day an estimated 42,000 more join the exodus,” most making their way to Europe, where there is “total confusion” about whether or not to welcome refugees, he said.

He said families in the Holy Land share struggles similar to the Holy Family, who were once refugees in Egypt. He urged meeting participants to find ways to express their solidarity and support to Christians in the Holy Land.

“But being a Church of Calvary, we don’t forget that we are a Church of resurrection, of hope, of future,” he said, noting that signs of hope exist.

“We have many wonderful committed young couples,” he said, and the seminary is filled to capacity with 35 seminarians.

Patriarch Twal said Christians in the Middle East trust in the words of Jesus that they need not be afraid, for they are not alone and Jesus is with them.

And just like Jesus on the Mount of Olives, the patriarch said, “We pray, we weep, we suffer and we wait.”