At the end of 2019, the Catholic Center for Studies and Media (CCSM) would like to extend well wishes to friends, as well as to media and press agencies on the advent of the new year 2020, and to review, as usual, the most prominent events related to religions witnessed in the local, regional and global arenas.
The outset of 2019 marked the United Arab Emirates’ declaration of 2019 as a year of ethnic and religious tolerance. Furthermore, Pope Francis’ visit to the first Gulf country was impressive at the media and universal levels, especially with regards to his celebration of the Pontifical Mass which was attended by more than 135,000 people of different nationalities, in addition to the joint statement of “the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” that was signed by Pope Francis and Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb. The document was the focus of research and study at international levels with regards to the means of transforming its concepts and principles into practical initiatives. The path in this direction is still long. The Pope called for a Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region seeking to identify new paths of evangelization as well as to consider the environmental, pastoral, and social needs.
In the same context, the visit of Pope Francis to Morocco, two months later had a special importance. It was reminiscent of the visit of Pope John Paul II 34 years ago to Morocco, as it served to consolidate the relations between the Pontiff and the Moroccan monarch/ “Commander of the Faithful” especially in building bridges, rather than walls, and in considering Noble Jerusalem as a holy city open to all. Pope Francis also called for a synod for the Catholic Church around the Amazon, and for the need to face environmental, pastoral and social challenges.
At the local level, His Majesty King Abdullah II’s acquisition of the 2019 St. Francis of Assisi Lamp of Peace Award was of special importance as it preceded a few months earlier his receiving the Templeton Prize in recognition of his efforts, to seek interfaith dialogue. The Assisi Award is dedicated to renowned men of peace. Undoubtedly, the Hashemite custodianship of the holy sites in Noble Jerusalem is one of the main characteristics of the Jordanian role in the field of interfaith dialogue and the rapprochement among its followers.
Locally, the CCSM continued to celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation in partnership between Christians and Muslims for the second year, just as it is the tenth year in a row in Lebanon. The CCSM also organized an international conference titled: “Media and Their Role in Defending the Truth”, in which a large number of the press and media people participated. During the conference, the Media Code of Ethics was signed.
At the regional level, Cardinal Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, the Maronite patriarch of Antioch and All the East, passed away and a funeral was held at Bkerki. Furthermore, Hungary continued to hold international conferences on the persecution of Christians, and provided assistance to the Catholic Church in Jordan regarding the completion of the construction of the church at the Baptism Site.
At the international level, the world suffered from the terrorist tragedy in Sri Lanka that happened on Easter Day, just as it did for the victims of terrorism in a New Zealand mosque, while marches condemning terrorism ensued worldwide. Furthermore, an international coalition of representatives from the world’s religions dedicated to promoting peace convened a conference titled, “Religions for Peace.” The conference convened with 900 participants from 90 countries. Egyptian Azza Karam was elected as the first Arab woman to the post of the secretary general of the international organization. Another meeting was held in New York that drew up the “religious” strategy for the next five years (2020-2025).
This year’s panorama can serve as a panorama for the first 20 years of the third millennium, and for ten years since 2010, when the Middle East Synod of the Church was held in the Vatican. This was followed by the massacre of the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Deliverance in Baghdad; the start of the Arab Spring; the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the election of Pope Francis who visited Jordan at the outset of his three-day visit to the Holy Land, and the new approach that the Church followed, while His Majesty King Abdullah II called for an international conference in September 2013 to discuss the challenges facing Christian Arabs, as His Majesty said that “the protection of the Arab Christian identity is a duty rather than a favor.”
Soon attention focused on Mosul in the summer of 2014, when the so-called Islamic State organization (ISIS) emerged. ISIS violated the sublime religious diversity, and forcibly displaced Christians of Mosul and the towns of the Nineveh Plain, in addition to the Yazidi minority. Jordan and Lebanon welcomed a large number of the displaced from Mosul with the support of Caritas Jordan and Lebanon. Some of the forcibly displaced fled to faraway countries, and a large number of them settled in Iraqi Kurdistan. The churches of Egypt suffered from several terrorist attacks. Al-Azhar severed its relations with the Vatican on the pretext of interfering in the affairs of others, but relations were normalized in 2014, when the late Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran headed the Vatican delegation in the first round of dialogue, after which Pope Francis paid a historic visit to Egypt, which was followed by a visit to Al-Azhar and the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate.
As we are on the threshold of the third decade of the third millennium, and after the collapse of several terrorist organizations, thank God, the educational responsibility remains the basis, because our Arab youth have, unfortunately, sympathized with several of these organizations. Their minds were distorted and became unable to view the others as brethren and partners in human civilization. The next step lies in the treatment of those who have been infected by intolerance and closed-mindedness, as well as in protecting the generations to come from the venoms disseminated by extremist ideas. The Arab countries and the world countries ought to draw up applicable plans as well as clear strategies on the means to counter the winds of bigotry that could blow anew.