05/20/2022, 18.48
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MECC: Protect the Christian presence and holy places in the Middle East

The Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) held its 12th General Assembly from 16 to 20 May. For the first time, the meeting took place in Egypt. Catholic, Evangelical and Orthodox leaders call for action against “violence and fanaticism”, renewed dialogue with Islam and protection of creation. They also appealed for the release of the archbishops of Aleppo who have been missing since 2013.

Cairo (AsiaNews) – The Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) held its 12th General Assembly this week (16-20 May) in Egypt. The theme of the five days of intense work was “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27).

At the end, the region’s ecumenical council released an official statement highlighting 12 points, focusing on violence and fanaticism, climate and environment, emigration and protection of the holy places starting with Jerusalem.

The goal is to protect the “Christian presence” and secure “peace in the East and the world” as well as “give our believers a whiff of hope in the midst of tragedies and difficulties.”

In the final statement, Christian leaders stress the need to renounce “violence and fanaticism of all kinds and forms, rejecting extremism, terrorism, exclusion and discrimination based on religion, race, color, gender, and others.”

Likewise, they call for “Solidarity with the marginalized and vulnerable, refugees and displaced persons, and an appeal to officials and the international community to work for their return to their land.”

This includes the protection of “freedom of belief, consolidating the values of citizenship and a common life with the Muslim brothers with whom we share a mutual respect.”

The meeting, which had been scheduled for 2020 but had to be postponed because of the pandemic, enabled participants to discuss in greater depth the issues and priorities that affect the region’s Christian communities from an ecumenical perspective.

For the first time, the assembly was held in Egypt, with the Coptic Orthodox Church as the host. Coptic Pope Tawadros II led the meeting, which brought together 21 Middle Eastern Churches and 17 patriarchs and community leaders.

Among the latter were the Chaldean primate, Card Louis Raphael Sako, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Mor Ignatius Aphrem II Patriarch of Antioch, Orthodox and Evangelical leaders, religious and lay people from the region and the diaspora.

The work included meetings, sessions, moments of prayer and reflection, Christian witness and ecumenical dialogue, as well as the presentation of the report by MECC Secretary General Dr Michel Abs.

The General Assembly is MECC’s supreme body. Founded in 1974 in Nicosia (Cyprus), it is currently based in Beirut (Lebanon). It meets in ordinary session every four years to discuss issues relating to the Christian presence in the Middle East.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions, it was postponed two years ago.

At this meeting, Christian leaders discussed economic issues and crises raging in the region’s countries that cause the “suffering that burdens peoples”. The assembly looked especially “with pain” at Christian emigration, above all among young people.

Participants also stressed the need to respond the challenge of climate change. Noting that the COP27 climate summit will be held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, next November, the Assembly highlighted “our role and responsibility as good stewards of creation” and what Pope Francis called our “common home”.

Finally, the prelates issued an appeal to international community to work on the release of “all the kidnapped” and the missing, in particular “the Archbishops of Aleppo, Paul al-Yazji and Mar Gregory Youhanna Ibrahim”, whose fate remains unknown since 2013.

The statement calls on the faithful to pray for peace and stability in the Middle East, an end to wars, conflicts, and the pandemic as well as policies to deal effectively with the economic crisis.

It concludes with an appeal: “We ask mercy for the victims of violence, and consolation for the afflicted.”

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