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INTERVIEW: Catholic Armenian Bishop in Alexandria: Pope’s Abu Dhabi Document Is Circulating

Zenit Spoke to Prelate in Amman, Jordan

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Pope Francis’ document on human fraternity is being welcomed and diffused throughout the press, Catholic and secular, in Egypt.
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Copyright: The Catholic Church of the Holy Land

In an exclusive interview with ZENIT in Amman, Jordan, Bishop Krikor Augustin Coussa, Bishop of Alexandria of the Armenian Catholics (Egypt, Sudan, and the African countries), affirmed this.
The prelate was born in Aleppo, Syria, on June 17, 1953, was ordained priest on Dec. 24, 1980, appointed Bishop of Alexandria on Sept. 9, 2003 and ordained on May 9, 2004.
The international conference “Media and their role in defending the truth”, reflecting on dialogue between religions and people in the Middle East, is taking place in the Jordanian capital, June 18-20, 2019. The meeting is promoted by the Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the East, the Catholic Center for Studies and Media in Jordan, with the collaboration of the Platform for Dialogue and Cooperation between Religious Leaders and Institutions of the Arab World” and the Jordanian Office of Tourism.

Zenit Senior Vatican correspondent Deborah Castellano Lubov is in Amman to speak at the conference during the session on “Media and truth: what is the relationship?”

Pope Francis visited Jordan, home to the Baptism site of Jesus, in 2014, during the journey to the Holy Land. He did so in the footsteps of Benedict XVI (2009) and St. John Paul II (2000). Jordan, with a large Islamic majority, where Catholics are less than 1% of the population, has a reputation as a peaceful and tolerant country in the Middle East.

Below is the exclusive Zenit interview with the Egyptian-based prelate done in Amman:

ZENIT: We are here discussing communications and media, especially in Christian and Muslim contexts. Tell me a bit, Your Excellency, about the situation in your country of Egypt?
Bishop Krikor Augustin Coussa: The situation in Egypt now is interesting, because there is war in the Middle East and all talk about the war. However, they don’t tell the truth and, in this conference, we want to tell the truth and, above all, we want to tell how Christians live in the Middle East. We work together for the truth and the life of Christians and for coexistence with Muslims — a coexistence of love and fraternity.

ZENIT: How do Christians live in the Middle East?
Bishop Coussa: Before Christians in Arab countries lived well, but now, because of the war, all are afraid. Christians want to leave. For example, they want to go from Egypt to Australia, the United States and Canada. However, we, bishops and priests, don’t want our faithful to leave their homelands, feeling compelled.

ZENIT: They are still living under fear of attacks or terrorism…
Bishop Coussa: There have been many attacks on churches and Christian places or symbols in Egypt . . . When one witnesses attacks on churches, convents, priests, and so on, it is often something rather difficult for many to wrap their minds around and come to grips with. This is our reality.

ZENIT: Are your faithful fearful to go to church?

Bishop Coussa: Not only Catholics, also Orthodox, Protestants, all, even Muslims. Fear is there. Ultimately though, all of us, whatever our religion may be, want peace and to live together.

ZENIT: In this conference, the underlying theme is truth in communication. When it comes to engaging in dialogue with Islam, is it always appropriate to tell the whole truth or is it appropriate to be more diplomatic?
Bishop Coussa: For me, in my reality, my relationships with Muslims are very positive. I am grateful for this. In fact, some could be surprised to hear, but there are representatives of the Islamic community who travel to me for Christmas and Easter to attend Mass. However, it also goes without saying that certainly there are others that don’t maintain relationships with Muslims.
ZENIT: What do you expect from the 10-point Media Code of Ethics, which was presented and signed here, in Amman, at this encounter?
The conference issued the following 10 recommendations below, which have been translated from Arabic to English by abouna.org:

1. Underlining the importance of maintaining contacts among the institutions organizing the conference, namely the Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the East, the Catholic Center for Studies and Media, the Platform for Dialogue and Cooperation among Religious Leaders and Institutions in the Arab World. Stress is also made on the importance of maintaining contacts among the media centers affiliated with the organizing parties.
2. Underlining the importance of the 10-point “Media Code of Ethics” which was signed at the conference to give support to journalists and media officials. The participants in the conference hope that this document will be marked by various media outlets locally, regionally, and internationally.
3. Underlining the importance of working in the field of media to serve in disseminating and defending truth in an amiable spirit of meekness and respect despite ethnic or religious differences.
4. Providing assistance to various media outlets so as to serve and enhance dialogue among followers of religions, in addition to preparing educational programs for journalists in order to steer these media outlets towards acceptance of others, harmony, and the culture of encounter.
5. Convening an international conference on hate speeches that are unfortunately spreading on social media networking sites, analyzing these speeches, urging people to stay away from rumors and fake news, and calling for a strategy to be adopted by the Arab League to criminalize those who insult religions and to confront hate speeches using media outlets.
6. Urging schools and universities to introduce special curricula that promote proper use of social media networking in order to enhance societal peace and humanitarian communication that exude love and mutual respect.
7. Publishing the texts of the sessions in a documentary book to serve as a reference for future discussions and dialogues on the relationship between media and truth.
8. Sending a message of appreciation to the Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the East, due to convene in Cairo in November 2019, for adopting the issue of media in their next meeting and the trend to establish a permanent media coordination committee among various Churches.
9. Conducting permanent coordination between Christian and Islamic media centers in order to adopt a unified address based on the holy books that will bring people together and serve as a bulwark in the face of attempts to create schisms and spread strife.
10. Establishing a media observatory designed to refute misleading and false ideas, and to spread the spirit of dialogue.

Bishop Coussa: I want to take with me the works of this Conference for peace, for telling the truth without fear, and to have all live again in peace. Jesus said, tell the truth and don’t be afraid.

ZENIT:  What do you think of the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, signed in Abu Dhabi, on Feb. 4, 2019, between Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Alzhar Al Tayyeb, in which there is also strong language condemning religious extremism?
A: It’s very beautiful. I spoke with journalists in Egypt, to publish it and make known what the Head of the Catholic Church says to all Christians; how it necessary it is to live together.
ZENIT: Beyond your call to spread this message, would you say the document has circulated through your country? Not only among the Catholics or Christians, but among the Muslims?
A: Yes. Certainly. It has also circulated in the secular publications, even the primary Egyptian newspaper. This is a good sign that little by little this document is becoming more and more known, and has received this positive welcome.

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Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, often from the Papal Flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has also asked him questions on the return-flight press conference on behalf of the English-speaking press present. Lubov has done much TV & radio commentary, including for NBC, Sky, EWTN, BBC, Vatican Radio, AP, Reuters and more. She also has contributed to various books on the Pope and has written for various Catholic publications. For 'The Other Francis': http://www.gracewing.co.uk/page219.html or https://www.amazon.com/Other-Francis-Everything-They-about/dp/0852449348/

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