CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 16 February 2019

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Christians are the big losers in the Arab Spring

HAIFA (SE): “Arab Spring is not the right term. This was no spring. It was a monumental bloodbath. So many died, but the biggest losers are the Christians…” Archbishop Elias Chacour, from Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and All Galilee of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, told the Vatican Insider.

Archbishop Chacour is an elder in one of the largest communities of Arab Catholics in Israel. The Church has 80,000 members, 32 parishes and 28 priests. The Vatican Insider described the Israeli city of Haifa as a shining example of peaceful co-existence between religions.

During a press conference, the archbishop expressed his concerns about the fate of Christians who have been forced to flee Syria, the dialogue process with the Orthodox Church and Pope Francis. 

“I do not know why so many lost their lives in the Arab Spring, which was not a spring at all, since it produced no fruit and new life was nowhere to be seen,” he said.

He added that United States of America Chaldean Bishop Ibrahim Ibrahim had told him that the 4,000 Chaldean Christians in Detroit have now become 130,000, because so many have fled the countries where they had previously been living.

“I ask myself why the west is doing nothing to stop what is going on in Syria, 160 little Christian villages have been completely abandoned. Many people are fleeing to Lebanon, but we do not know how many. I saw our bishop of Damascus cry like a baby: every single Christian in Syria needs our help; they need every bit of bread and every glass of water they can get…” he said.

Archbishop Chacour described the events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria over the past few years as “a turning point in Islamic history. Before, leaders would engage in power struggles without involving the public. We were not happy with the totalitarian regimes, but we are not happy today either. This is partly because of the risk of Islamic Sharia law coming into force, which would be abominable. We don’t know what will happen further on down the line,” the archbishop explained.

“We are Israeli citizens; we have not yet resolved all our problems, but we are soldiering on. We must resist any assimilation and work towards integration. Unlike other Christian communities we do not have any foreign protectors,” Archbishop Chacour went on.

He described the Easter Sunday agreement as a big step forward in achieving Christian unity in Israel. “We have decided to go by the Julian calendar,” he explained.

He said that this reduces differences, as the Latin patriarchate and the Anglicans switched to this calendar too.

He described the streets of Haifa at Easter as having been blocked off to traffic for three days. “It was such a joy to join our Orthodox brothers and sisters for the Palm Sunday procession,” he said, quoting the mayor of Haifa as saying, “If you do this every week, I’m behind you.”

He added that the Orthodox look favourably on the decision of Pope Francis to emphasise his position as bishop of Rome. 

“It was an act of humility; by focussing on his role as bishop of Rome, Francis showed himself to be a hero of humility. Other popes have often neglected to do this and have ended up seeing themselves as bishops of the world,” he noted.

However, he stressed that Rome should not forget Israel. “We must not forget that it was here that it all started, not in Rome,” he said, explaining that when his priests go on pilgrimages, he always says to them, “Tell Mary it is time she comes home. People tend to forget Mary is from Nazareth and that Jesus was the man who lived in Nazareth; he’s my fellow countryman.”

The Melkite archbishop pointed out that the Latin Rite Catholics are fewer in number, only about 10,000, but the community has a patriarch, four bishops, hundreds of priests and numerous women religious.

“Lucky them!” he said. “We need to do more in terms of sharing, not just communion. It is not just our problems, we should share more.”

 

He complained that resources, including money are not shared evenly, even though his own people are also Catholic.

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