LONDON, JULY 21, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Even though Arab Christians constitute a minority in the Middle East, they are a minority that matters, says the president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialouge.
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran said this Tuesday at a two-day conference on Christians in the Holy Land that took place this week at Lambeth Palace.
Jointly hosted by the Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury and the Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, the conference examined the challenging situation in which Christian communities in parts of the Holy Land find themselves.
Speaking as Benedict XVI’s representative to the conference, Cardinal Tauran said it must be recognized that “the situation of Christians in the Holy Land, like in other Middle East countries, is marked by precariousness.”
“We must remember that the political evolution of the last 50 years has made the presence and the leadership of Christians fragile,” he said. “Revolutions and wars have contributed to weaken the Christian communities and favored the emigration of many families.
“What we have to avoid is that the Holy Land becomes an archaeological and historical site to be visited like the Coliseum in Rome.”
The cardinal continued: “For us Christians the Holy Land is the land of God’s revelation, the place where Jesus lived, died and was resurrected. We cannot even think that Bethlehem or the Holy Sepulcher should become museums with entrance tickets and guides who explain beautiful legends.
“For us the Holy Places, the shrines, are much more than stones. The Holy Places are living testimonies which have around them a population, families with their schools, their cultural patrimony, their languages, their folklore, their artisans, handicrafts as well as hospitals, etc.”
Cardinal Tauran reiterated the fact that Christians in the Holy Land and in the Arab world constitute a minority, but that they are “a minority that matters.”
A certain dignity
“Our Christian brothers and sisters of that part of the world have to realize that they have a certain peculiarity, I should say a certain dignity,” the cardinal explained. “They all belong to apostolic churches.
“Missionaries from Rome or Constantinople did not bring the Christian faith there. Those communities have been built on the faith of the apostles. They are apostolic communities in the deepest sense of the word. Their practice comes through the faith of the apostles; this is their identity.
“Their liturgical patrimony is of an exceptional value. (Let us mention by the way that in many Oriental Churches the Eucharistic Prayer is said in the language spoken by Jesus.)”
Also, the cardinal noted that Christians in the Holy Land and in the Middle East are Arabs, and that they have lived in the region “much before the Muslims.”
“They are not asking asylum,” he said, “they are rather at home. Our Christian brothers and sisters speak Arabic and for example, many Christians have contributed to the rebirth of Arabic literature at the end of the 19th century.”
The president of the interreligious dicastery said that Arab Christians are “a gift” to the Holy Land “because they bring cultural openness, a sense of the dignity of the human person and particularly of women; a conception of freedom which harmonizes rights and privileges and a conception of political society which can lead to democracy.”
“Christians have the vocation to be a bridge,” he added. “Then the question is not how the Christians are going to survive in the Holy Land and the Middle East, but how they are ready to be witnesses to their faith.
“I think that many Muslims are worried about the future of Christians in that region, because they know that Christians can help them to understand modernity and how to reconcile diversity and unity.”
Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem spoke about the words most associated with the Holy Land: “occupation, terrorism, settlements, rocket attacks, home demolitions and security walls.”
“All these are powerfully resonant, alarming, hotly debated, and politically-charged,” he said. “But beyond the buzz words, are the people and their lives in this Land called Holy.”
“For too long,” the patriarch said, “the people of this land have been mired in conflict. Many innocent people especially the youth have suffered and continue to suffer.”
He briefly recounted why conflict continues to fester in the region, such as “missed opportunities and a lack of good political determination,” as well as “external influential forces.”
“Ultimately,” the patriarch continued, “the Israelis and Palestinians who live in the Holy Land must work out their differences in a just and righteous manner and in ways that may require painful compromises.”
He said that “both sides must abandon maximalist claims to a life in the land without the other, and reconcile themselves to the belief, that we live in a world, where proximate justice is the best we can hope for.”
Patriarch Twal also noted that external intervention would be needed for various reasons, such as a “lack of trust” among the parties, the imbalances of power, and the historical nature of the conflict.
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On ZENIT’s Web page:
Cardinal Tauran’s address: www.zenit.org/article-33124?l=english
Patriarch Twal’s address: www.zenit.org/article-33125?l=english