NICOSIA – Day-by-day overview of the conference “10 years after Ecclesia in Medio Oriente – Rooted in Hope”, that saw the gathering of all the Catholic Churches of the Middle East in the city of Nicosia, to discuss the impact of Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Exhortation and the future implications for the Churches of the region.
Day 1: welcoming speeches by H.E. Claudio Gugerotti, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches and President of the Symposium, and H.E Gian Petro Dal Toso, Apostolic Nuncio for Jordan and Cyprus, prayers in various rites, and a talk by His Beatitude Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, during which he presented the Exhortation, the events that took place since its publication, and, in its light, some possible orientations for the Churches of the region.
Day 2: after a Holy Mass celebrated according to the Chaldean rite by Cardinal Louis Sako, the morning was split between three talks. First speaker was H.E. Paolo Martinelli, ofm cap, Apostolic Vicar for the UAE, Yemen and Oman, who spoke of the essentiality of Christian formation and its challenges. “The fundamental challenge for Christian formation,” he notably said, “could be summarized in these terms: “One must move from a Christianity transmitted by convention through a social bond taken for granted to a Christianity transmitted by conviction, intercepting the new anthropological questions that the younger generations have in their hearts, aroused by the unprecedented situations they face in order to work, live and love.”
The second speaker, Prof Youssef El-Haj (Holy Spirit University of Kaslik, Lebanon – Ex-Consultor at the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims (CRRM) of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) at the Holy See), spoke of Christian-Muslim relations and how, today, “Christian-Muslim dialogue is not seen any more by both parties as sporadic, but as a fundamental, irreversible, and continuous work-in progress that engages all Middle Eastern Catholic Churches in a concerted effort.”
Finally, Dr. Viola Raheb, consultant in science communication and projects at the PRO ORIENTE Foundation, debated on the topic of Freedoms and Rights, mentioning various challenges affecting today’s Christians and especially the youth, and which include diversity, political and economic instability, traditionalism and conflicts.
The day ended with group discussions debating the topics spoken of during the morning, followed by a plenary meeting, during which the conclusions of the discussions were presented, and which concluded on an evening prayer.
Day 3: the third day of the conference was highlighted by the coming of His Beatitude George III, Eastern Orthodox Archbishop of Cyprus, and the talks of Prof. Mirna Abboud Mzawak, Coordinator of Women Pastoral Office – Bkerke, and Mr. Nadimm Ammann, member of the ROACO (Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches). Prof. Mzawak, who spoke of the “Christian Engagement within the Socio-Ecclesial Space”, presented various statistics regarding the engagement of Christians, especially the youth, underlining some positive aspects notably regarding the “apostolic movements and prayer groups”, who encounter much more popularity than before among the youth, as well as young people’s stronger “feeling of belonging to the Church” and of “being missionaries.” These facts showed “potential” that the Churches of the Middle East should not ignore, while others illustrated weaknesses within the Church, notably regarding the media and Christian formation. In the end, echoing Mgr Pizzaballa’s words a few days earlier, Prof. Mzawak concluded by stating that a “renewal” of the Churches was necessary in order to adapt to our times, a renewal that could get inspired by “the very first community of Christians”, who had “one heart and one soul”.
Following her talk, Mr. Nadimm Ammann then spoke of the “Challenges and Opportunities for the Catholic Institutions in the Middle East”, highlighting the latter’s humanitarian commitment, but also the need for the Church to “work still harder than before to go out to young people and take them and their concerns and dreams and their life projects seriously”, in order to “develop a pastoral outreach with a specific vision in which young people can recognize themselve”. He also insisted on the fundamental need for “continuing development and transparency”, as well as a more solid cooperation among the different Churches of the Middle East.
Like yesterday, the talks were followed by group discussions and a plenary assembly, and concluded on a prayer celebrated according to the Melkite rite.
Day 4 (last day): The conference was concluded on April 23rd by Mgr Claudio Gugerotti, president of the Symposium, who offered a few words to the assembly to close the discussions that took place during the past four days. He highlighted the “beauty”, efforts and initiatives of the Catholic Churches of the Middle East, as well as their “courage” and “richness”, and also underlined some of the main points that were debated during the conference. “We often think God always wants us to speak,” he said, insisting on the need for the Church “to listen” in order to “walk together” as one. He also emphasized the necessity for the West and the East alike to “get used to a different style”, free of “paternalism” and a relationship of simple donor-benefactor, but characterized by “real support.” He concluded by saying, “Our meeting really starts now, as we go back to our dioceses and try to implement and be faithful to what we have said.”
After a summary of the four days, presented by Mgr Mounir Khairallah, bishop of Batrun (Lebanon), the conference, which counted 257 participants and six main speakers, ended with a Holy Mass celebrated according to the Maronite rite and presided over by Cardinal Mar Bechara Boutros Rai, one of the two Cardinals present during the Symposium, the other being Cardinal Louis Sako.
Centered, among others, on “collaboration”, “Christian formation”, “youth”, “women”, “transparency”, “pastoral care”, “migration” and “auto-sufficiency”, the conference was also an opportunity, as highlighted by many, to “meet and to get to know each other”, to share “our troubles and fears but also “our hopes and aspirations”, in all the “diversity of our ecclesial, historical and geographical realities”, and to remember that it was here, in the Middle East, that the first Christians were born and spread the joy of the Good News to the entire world.
Final reports will be published next week on lpj.org!
By: Nicolawos Hazboun and Cécile Leca | lpj.org