Ecumenism looks to the East
This year the Council of Churches of the Middle East has been tasked with preparing the texts for the Week of Prayer that is celebrated around the world from 18 to 25 January. For its part, the Taizé community is calling on young people to come to the Holy Land in May for the new stage of its “Pilgrimage of Trust on Earth".
Milan (AsiaNews) – The Middle East is one of the corners of the world where the wounds of history have created very deep divisions among Christians. Yet, it is also a unique laboratory for the Churches, where they are called to try to truly live everyday the challenges of walking together.
This is one of the reasons that the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches tasked the Council of Churches of the Middle East with preparing the texts that will guide the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity this year, which will be celebrated between 18 and 25 January around the world.
It is no accident that the Gospel verse chosen as the theme, Matthew 2:2, focuses on the East as the place where the star appeared prompting the Magi to travel to Bethlehem to worship Jesus.
Set up in 1962 as the Council of Churches of the Near East, the Beirut-based Council of Churches of the Middle East brings together Christian communities from countries as different as Egypt and Iran. The region’s Catholic Churches joined the Council in 1990.
As the introduction says: “The star rose in the east (Mt 2:2). It is from the east that the sun rises, and from what is called the Middle East that salvation appeared by the mercy of our God who blessed us with the dawn from on high (Lk 1:78). But the history of the Middle East was, and still is, characterized by conflict and strife, tainted with blood and darkened by injustice and oppression.”
“The Christians of the Middle East offer these resources for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity conscious that the world shares many of the travails and difficulties that they experience, and yearns for a light to lead the way to the Saviour who can overcome darkness.
“The COVID-19 global pandemic, the ensuing economic crisis, and the failure of political, economic and social structures to protect the weakest and most vulnerable, have underlined the global need for a light to shine in the darkness.
“The star that shone in the east, the Middle East, two thousand years ago still calls us to the manger, to where Christ is born. It draws us to where the Spirit of God is alive and active, to the reality of our baptism, and to the transformation of our hearts.”
“After encountering the Saviour and worshipping him together, the Magi return to their countries by a different way, having been warned in a dream. Similarly, the communion we share in our prayer together must inspire us to return to our lives, our churches and our world by new ways. Travelling by new ways is an invitation to repentance and renewal in our personal lives, in our churches and in our societies.
“Following Christ is our new path, and in a volatile and changing world Christians must remain as fixed and determined as the constellations and the shining planets. But what does this mean in practice? Serving the Gospel today requires a commitment to defending human dignity, especially in the poorest, the weakest and those marginalized.
“It requires from the churches transparency and accountability in dealing with the world, and with each other. This means churches need to cooperate to provide relief to the afflicted, to welcome the displaced, to relieve the burdened, and to build a just and honest society.
“This is a call for churches to work together so that young people can build a future that accords to God’s heart, a future in which all human beings can experience life, peace, justice, and love. The new way between the churches is the way of visible unity that we sacrificially seek with courage and audacity so that, day after day, ‘God may be all in all’ (1 Cor 15:28).”
Another small sign is pointing towards this corner of the world. The ecumenical community of Taizé has decided to undertake in the Holy Land the next stage of its “Pilgrimage of Trust on Earth” that its founder Brother Roger began.
The initiative, promoted in collaboration with the Churches of the Holy Land and the Tantur Ecumenical Institute (created in Bethlehem following Paul VI’s historic journey in 1964), will involve young people of all confessions, aged 18 to 35 between 8 and 15 May.
As is the style of the meetings promoted by the Taizé community, young people will be welcomed by Christian families of the Holy Land into their homes. This is particularly important since the pandemic brought to halt almost all pilgrimages to Jerusalem in the past two years. Hopefully, the recent lifting of travel restrictions by Israel will make them easier.
One of the brothers of the Taizé community has been in the Holy Land for a few weeks to prepare the event. He writes: “Meeting many people in this complex part of the world, one is struck by this fact: they all speak of the urgency of supporting each other by going together to sources of hope and trust. Is this not what we wish to experience in our pilgrimage of trust across the earth?”
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