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Peace Not Walls

Bishop Hanson sends letters of support to Syrian church leaders

In letters to Christian church leaders in Syria, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), offered his support of the churches’ collective call for an end to violence and his prayers for the people in the region.

“In these difficult days, I will continue to pray and encourage members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to pray for you and your efforts to sustain the courage and faith of your communities,” wrote Hanson. In addition to prayers for the people of Syria, the presiding bishop said he mourns the recent death of a priest there, “who died serving others.”

Participants in the WCC meeting on Muslim-Christian Relations

As the violence in Syria continues, Hanson acknowledged in his letters that there are no simple answers to resolve the current situation, and therefore agrees with many Syrian church leaders on the need for dialogue instead of further fighting.

“We who are at ‘the ends of the earth’ cannot forget the importance of Syria for the growth of our faith or the communities of disciples keeping the faith in the land of Christianity’s birth,” Hanson wrote. “We affirm, with you, that the Christian communities in Syria are an essential component to the fabric of Syrian culture and history.”

At the conclusion of his letter, Hanson said he will pray for the efforts of Syrian church leaders toward renewing and strengthening their relationships with Muslim neighbors, and he asked how the ELCA might assist church leaders and the people of Syria.

“We know that well-meaning actions can sometimes result in unintended negative consequences, thus we seek your guidance. In this critical time, we hope to do all we can to strengthen your callings to be ministers of reconciliation in your land,” wrote Hanson.

The Rev. Robert Smith, Area Program Director for the Middle East & North Africa, was attending a World Council of Churches on Christian meeting in Beirut about Christian and Muslim relations when the letter was released. He read the message to the group of about 40 Christians and Muslims gathered from throughout the region, including participants from Syria. The letter was received as an important message from a church leader in the U.S. that respected the complexity of the ongoing situation in Syria while offering heart-felt solidarity. Since then, Bishop Hanson has received responses from Syrian church leaders expressing similar thoughts.

Read the ELCA news release

Christian and Muslim Leaders Reflect on Christian Presence in the Middle East

The World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit reaffirmed churches’ commitment to justice and peace in the Middle East, while stressing the importance of a common vision for living together by Christians and Muslims in the Arab world.

WCC Conference in Lebanon

From left to right: Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, the WCC general secretary; H.H. Catholicos Aram I of the Holy See of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church; and H.B. Patriarch emeritus Michel Sabbah at the WCC consultation in Lebanon. © Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia

From the World Council of Churches article – “Without this Christian presence, the conviviality among peoples from different faiths, cultures, and civilisations, which is a sign of God’s love for all humanity, will be endangered,” said Tveit.

He appreciated the participation of a range of Muslims in the consultation, who he says, have emphasized their commitment to strengthen the Christian presence in the Middle East. He said that it is through their action for the common good that people in the Arab world can accomplish peace, justice, freedom and harmony.

“We will certainly want to make clear to our wider constituency, the WCC’s extensive experience over many years of how Christians and Muslims continue to work together constructively for the common good,” he said.

Tveit also pointed out the challenges faced by the Christians in the Arab world, and the sense of insecurity they feel, due to political divides and persistent conflicts.  The WCC has addressed over a number of years the issue of emigration of Christians from the region resulting from the occupation and war in Iraq and the occupation of the Palestinian territories.

He said, “We know that the changes in the Arab world over the last year – and changes still to come – have also left many Christians, along with many Muslims, feeling uncertain and even afraid for their future.”

Highlighting the efforts of churches struggling for justice and peace in Israel and Palestine, Tveit said that the situation is of great concern for Christians in Jerusalem, as well as people of other faiths.

Tveit was speaking at the Christian-Muslim consultation on “Christian Presence and Witness in the Arab World” organized by the WCC programmes for Churches in the Middle East and Inter-religious Dialogue and Cooperation in collaboration with the Middle East Council of Churches.

Could Arab Spring turn into Christian Winter?

From the World Council of Churches:

Churches in Egypt are praying and helping migrants, who flee home due to political turmoil, violence and uncertain future. There is a great need to develop stable democratic societies if the “Arab spring” is to bear fruits. Or else it might turn into an “Arab winter” with religious minorities at the risk of persecution.

David Victor R. Youssef expressed this concern at the World Council of Churches (WCC) Global Ecumenical Network on Migration meeting taking place in Beirut, Lebanon from 5-7 December, organized by the WCC office for Just and Inclusive Communities and hosted by the Middle East Council of Churches.

Youssef works for the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services and was interviewed by Naveen Qayyum, the WCC staff writer. Read full interview.