10/01/2021, 18.20
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Between citizenship and dignity, Eastern Churches in an evolving region

by Fady Noun

A group renamed "Let's choose life" calls on Mideast Christians to opt for a multifaceted renewal of their presence, centred on the human person and interfaith relations. Unfinished, the revolutions of the Arab Spring failed to produce “democratic” governments. The document on the Human Fraternity signed by the Pope and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar is a milestone for the future.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – A ecumenical working group called “We choose life” has called for theological, geopolitical, intellectual and social renewal centred on human dignity, relationship with others, citizenship, partnership and rejection of the alliance of minorities.

A brief exposé of these ideas was presented yesterday at Mar Elias Church in Antelias, in the presence of its eleven signatories, including Souraya Bechaalany, former general secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches; political scientist Ziad el-Sayegh; and Fr Gabriel Hachem.

Such religious and political brain-storming goes against current geopolitical trends. Despite apparent reluctance among the Orthodox, the proposal specifically calls on the Churches in the Arab world to look at their long-tormented history to come up with choices that could lead to a renewal and fulfilment of their common faith, regardless of their demographic weight.

The report was presented in the presence of the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Joseph Spiteri; a representative of Sheikh Akl of the Druze community; Sheikh Fadel Selim, a representative of Ulema Ali Fadlallah, Sheikh Hussein Chehadé; Maronite Patriarchal Vicar Bishop Boulos Sayah; Rodelmar Bueno de Faria, secretary general of ACT Alliance, a Geneva-based international NGO network promoting sustainable development; Faysal el-Khalil, of the Civil Influence Hub; plus a number of intellectuals, civic and other religious leaders, as well as journalists.

In the opening statement, political scientist Ziad el-Sayegh set out the context that justified the group's approach. “The very cause of the human person and his dignity is threatened today by distortions of an ideological, state and political nature,” he said. The latter “have twisted the moral compass and even the sense of dignity.”

“We are not minorities," el-Sayegh insisted. We reject the alliance of minorities and the use of foreign protection. We are an integral part of an Arab majority aspiring to a state of a civic nature based on active citizenship, respecting and promoting diversity and pluralism.”

In his address, Najla Kassab, an ordained minister of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon and president of the World Communion of Reformed Churches, stressed that the document “invites us to commit ourselves by choosing life as a victory over death, discouragement, destruction, poverty and forced exodus.”

“To choose life is to engage in an in-depth dialogue on [. . .] the citizenship-based State, the right to be different, social justice, economic integrity, good environmental stewardship, human solidarity and good testimony for truth, justice, freedom and human rights. [. . .] The Christian presence,” she said, “is not a passive presence.”

The concept of citizenship

For his part, citing key passages from the proposed document, Prof Assaad Kattan, who teaches Orthodox theology at Munster University (Germany), explained how "the Arab Spring revolutions have not yet led to the establishment of democratic political regimes,” while campaigning for “the concept of citizenship to be placed at the heart of political practice.”

“We are witnessing a reconfiguration of the present in this region," he explained. “The old order has led to uprisings, but the new order has not yet materialised.” According to him, "Christians in the Middle East must, together with their Muslim brothers and other partners, build a civic state in all its ramifications, applied without discrimination or exception.”

Prof Kattan also called on the Churches to “speak out against injustice against women who, through the ages, have been victims, and to work, through bold initiatives, to change their fate and establish strict equality between them and men.”

Others spoke at the event via web link, most notably Chaldean Patriarch Card Raphael Louis I Sako, former Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah, ordained Minister Anne Emile Zaki (Cairo), Senator Hanna Grace (Egypt), researcher and theologian Viola Raheb (Palestine/Austria) and Dominican Father Amir Jaji (Iraq).

Open to debate

“These proposals are open to debate,” said a source close to the signatories of the document. “They do not replace previous reflections, but are added to them. 

“The emerging future of the Arab world is being drawn here, shaped by the Arab Spring, the Document on Human Fraternity of Abu Dhabi (2019) signed by Pope Francis and the Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb of al-Azhar, and the challenges of globalisation.

“Churches are invited to reflect beyond Lebanon; the document presents considerable challenges to Lebanese and Arab churchmen, researchers, intellectuals and politicians, although some of the proposals, such as the alliance of minorities, and the citizenship option are non-negotiable.”

But beware: “The great misfortune would be to see this roadmap suffer the fate of other roadmaps that have remained dead letter.”

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