Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, spoke Wednesday at the opening of a symposium “Christians in the Middle East: what future?” organised by the Sant’Egidio Community and the Archdiocese of Bari-Bitonto, Italy.
In his address, the cardinal remarked that many Christians in the East, hearing just a few days ago the story of Pilate’s famous gesture of washing his hands, “may have thought of the indifference and inaction to which the international community appears to have resigned itself before the tragedies that have for some years now been wearing away at Syria and Iraq”.
He added, “it is also saddening to see the incapacity of leaders in Lebanon, even those who are Christians, to arrive at consensus on the new president on the basis of a line of conduct due less to conscience than to the weighty influences of the forces that compete for supremacy in the area”.
“We trust, however, that in the heart of all people, both in the West and in the East, the governor Pilate’s poignant question remains alive: ‘Quid est veritas?’, ‘What is truth?’, followed by his search and service to it. The truth is first and foremost an act of removing every veil and covering from reality. It cannot be denied that if a solution has not yet been found it is certainly because the problems are many and complex, and also touch upon the internal relations between the different groups of Muslim faithful and between them and other religions present in the region, including Christians. But it is also legitimate to think that there are interests and balances of power and wealth that go before – seemingly without conceding a step – the mere survival, rather than the well-being, of the populations. And this is a scandal: let us remember what the Lord says, still today, to all the Cains on earth: ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.'”
Cardinal Sandri went on to mention that every year he launches an appeal, on behalf of the Holy Father, for support and aid for Christians in the Holy Land, a term that designates not only those who live within the borders of the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but also all the places linked to salvation history, the area of Mesopotamia and Persia, where the apostles preached, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt, where the Holy Family sought refuge.
“But mentioning a presence thus configured must be an indication of a method also for discussion at other levels”, he added. “It is not possible to speak of stability in the Middle East without reference to the age-old question of Israel and Palestine, accepting that Christians are permitted to live relatively peacefully in both territories. On the other hand, there must be no doubt regarding the need for all States, including Israel, to exist and be protected, not threatened. It is the task of Christian pastors throughout the Middle East to help their faithful to grow in this knowledge, pouring abundant oil of consolation, forgiveness and mercy on the wounds of the recent past. If we do not move in this direction, there is no doubt that power-crazed groups such as ISIS will multiply, especially as they are supported with arms and resources by various interested parties”.
“The West appears to have lost, over the centuries, the capacity for conceiving of itself within a healthy religious framework of reference, and increasingly favours an exasperated secular model, if not indeed a true ‘eclipse of God’. The destruction and horrors of the Middle East – which some wish to attribute exclusively to the religious factors – must not become an excuse to confirm this partial and mistaken vision, but rather a stimulus for rethinking the coexistence of and collaboration between different sectors of society for the full development of humanity”, concluded the prefect.
The participants in the symposium subsequently visited the Basilica of St. Nicholas, patron of Bari, where they prayed for the saint’s intercession to bring an end to the suffering of Christians in the Middle East and to accompany the work of the Pan-Orthodox Council, to be held in Turkey in 2016.