08/01/2013, 00.00
BRAZIL - VATICAN - LEBANON
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Eastern Christians, the great forgotten at Rio's World Youth Day

by Fady Noun
During the great 'youth week,' only a thousand faithful came from Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. Their tragedy was not left out of the Way of the Cross. The correspondent in Lebanon for AsiaNews offers some thoughts about the event, noting that for Pope Francis, Latin America is the "continent of hope" whereas Eastern Churches are asleep at the switch. Or more likely, tired of an East unable to solve its problems, the West has decided to leave the region to its fate.

Rio de Janeiro (AsiaNews) - A free people interpreting the pain Jesus endured, sharing it on the stages of work, in the mines, the hospitals, in the tombs of hope and its cradles provided the magnificent, dazzling show young Brazilians put on for the world on the evening of 27 July when they staged the 14 Stations of the Cross in Copacabana during World Youth Days.

At each station, there was a reading, a commentary and a meditation, a group of soldiers and standard-bearers standing nearby to emphasise the dignity of the scene in a solemnity that offered an additional distance, leaving some room for tears, reservedly, but continually revived, and continuously soothed. It was breath taking. One reservation though (or was it?). In the scene, Jesus, bleeding and naked, moving towards Golgotha, gets up sluggishly after falling. Sometimes, we too get up after we fall, many times on our journey.

"Jesus," the pope said, "with his Cross, walks with us and takes upon himself our fears, our problems, and our sufferings, even those which are deepest and most painful. With the Cross, Jesus unites himself to the silence of the victims of violence, those who can no longer cry out, especially the innocent and the defenceless; with the Cross, he is united to families in trouble, and those who mourn the tragic loss of their children, [. . .] On the Cross, Jesus is united with every person who suffers from hunger in a world which, on the other hand, permits itself the luxury of throwing away tons of food every day; on the Cross, Jesus is united to the many mothers and fathers who suffer as they see their children become victims of drug-induced euphoria; on the Cross, Jesus is united with those who are persecuted for their religion, for their beliefs or simply for the colour of their skin; on the Cross, Jesus is united with so many young people who have lost faith in political institutions, because they see in them only selfishness and corruption; he unites himself with those young people who have lost faith in the Church, or even in God because of the counter-witness of Christians and ministers of the Gospel."

Blame for young people's estrangement from the Church went to its 'ministers'. Earlier, the pope slammed careerism and red tape within the Church, which might lose its vitality if it lost contact with Christ and became an NGO.

The pope of young people was not there to be condescending towards them, often pampered to be better exploited, but to help them grow and mature. The day before the feast day of the Virgin's parents, Saints Joachim and Anne, he called for inter-generational dialogue. For him, the enthusiasm of youth and the wisdom of the elderly are complementary.

Big surprise

There was a big surprise though: no sign of the Middle East, the cradle of Christ, in the meditations that accompany the Way of the Cross. Was this deliberate forgetfulness?

When, during the intentions at the end of the ceremony, it was time for the Asian continent to speak, the words of the prayer were delivered by a Filipino, "May the Christian minority in Asia remain present as a fertile seed, even in the midst of persecution."

"Christian Minority?" What do Eastern patriarchs think? What does the Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai think? After all, he never misses an opportunity to point out that Eastern Christians "are not a minority" in this part of the world, but one of the most essential parts of its cultural and social fabric.

For his part, Francis noted that the centre and future of the Church now lies in Latin America, which the Archbishop of Rio calls "the continent of hope".

Few Eastern Christians came to the WYDs, their (Lebanese, Syrian, Iraqi) flags lost somewhere in the human tide that swamped the beautiful beach of Copacabana.

A thousand people amid a million and a half visitors have little impact. Was the price of the trip to Brazil one explanation for the low participation? Was it perhaps the only explanation? Or have Eastern Churches fallen asleep at the switch?

What seems certain is that the East with its unresolved problems is proving tiresome to the world. The region has become a quagmire where, from time to time, some Western crocodile can shed some tears, before going off on its way again.

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