BEIRUT, Lebanon — In Easter messages, Catholic patriarchs in the Middle East deplored the widespread carnage and suffering, yet affirmed the presence of Christians in the region by calling upon their faithful to carry on with hope.
From Bkerke, the patriarchal seat of the Maronite Catholic Church in Lebanon, Cardinal Bechara Rai condemned “all kinds of wars, persecutions and attacks.”
Rai, Maronite patriarch, urged the international community “to find political and diplomatic solutions to conflicts and to lay the foundations for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace” in the region. He implored the international community to stop countries from providing cover, aid and weapons to terrorist organizations.
“It is shameful for the rulers of states — with financial and military influence — who have made our eastern land a land of war, killing and destruction, a haven for terrorist organizations and fundamentalist movements,” Rai said. “They have ignited a fire they think burns in its place, but it has spread.”
He also condemned the “blatant and repeated persecution of Christians” in Egypt. He called upon “Muslims and Islamic countries to take active positions and initiatives to deter this persecution and to preserve the positive image of Islam.”
Rai reiterated that Christians have existed in Egypt and the Arab countries for 2,000 years. “They laid the foundations of their civilizations before the advent of Islam by a half century.”
He assured all those who are suffering that even if those wielding power “can destroy your homes and the achievements of your civilization, they will not be able to destroy your faith and love for your homeland and hope in your hearts.”
Syrian-born Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregoire III Laham pointed out in his Easter message that in early church history, Christians often were called “children of the Resurrection.”
“Can we forget that Damascus and its surroundings are the place of the appearance of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, to his persecutor, Saul, who had come to Damascus to destroy fledgling Christianity and slaughter the children of the resurrection?” Laham said.
“Saul was converted by the light of Christ risen from the dead and was himself transformed from persecutor of the children of the resurrection into a child and apostle of the resurrection,” he said.
“We pray, with our children in our Arab Eastern world, for peace to return to our suffering countries, especially Syria, Iraq and Palestine,” the patriarch said. “We invite everyone to hope, especially in the face of scenes of death, violence, explosions, terrorism, criminal killing and burning,” Laham said.
“The children of the Resurrection are builders of Syria of the future. The children of our churches and institutions are builders of love and peace,” he added.
In his Easter message from Baghdad, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako lamented the “suffering and daily grief” endured by Christians in Iraq and the world. He asked government officials and religious authorities for concrete initiatives to support the continued existence of Christians in Iraq and to guarantee their rights as equal citizens.
He encouraged Catholics “not to dwell in (the) unsecured solution of immigration” but instead “to return to their towns and their normal lives, keeping this strong bond with their history, heritage, language and the memory of their ancestors, saints and martyrs.”
Although the Chaldean Church in Iraq has become a “small flock,” the patriarch said, it continues to be a “lively, powerful, and ecumenically open-minded church” that helped and is still helping the poor and the displaced by providing accommodation and related support to all, “regardless of their faith and ethnicity.”
“This is our church that serves with love for the benefit of all people, inspires hope, encourages solidarity, seeks reliability to build bridges, supports dialogue and national reconciliation,” he added.
Noting that the Chaldean church had dedicated 2017 as a year of peace, he stressed that Easter represents “an excellent opportunity to provide us with a strong hope for peace, stability and a new life through prayer, reflection, reconciliation and dialogue.”
In Jerusalem, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, said knowledge and faith of the mystery of the Resurrection does not exempt the faithful from experiencing trials, pain and darkness.
In countries such as Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, “it seems that hatred and contempt in social and religious relations prevail over everything, and so human, religious and civil respect have become empty words,” he said. “Woe to us if we surrender to all this.”
He praised Christians in those circumstances, saying they “remain open, with serene confidence, to every collaboration. No word of hatred and contempt. No violent reaction, but only the serene and correctly strong desire for justice.”