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Hope and fear amid uncertainty in the Middle East

JERUSALEM (CNS): “There is a fear among the Christians (in Egypt) whether they will be given human rights and whether they will be treated as equal citizens. There is a sense of wait and see,” said Bishop Gerald Kicanas, the chairperson of the board of  Catholic Relief Services in the United States of America (US).

Almost a year after the eruption of the Arab Spring uprisings, the Middle East is a place of both hope and fear for Christians. 

Bishop Kicanas was in Baghdad late last year and visited Egypt prior to arriving in Jerusalem for the annual Holy Land Coordination meeting from January 8 to 12 with bishops from the US, Canada and Europe. 

The bishop added that, while there is hope for the creation of a new, equal society with a progressive economic situation, there are still concerns whether Egypt’s newly elected government with its Islamist majority will put restrictions on the rights of minorities in Egypt. 

Likewise, he said that in the Holy Land, while people continue to be hopeful for a peaceful resolution of the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict, they are frustrated by the inability of their leaders to reach an accord. 

“There is the tension between the needs of the people and the bickering of the politicians,” he said. 

The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land joined the bishops in their opening session on January 9.

During four days of meetings, the bishops met with Church leaders as well as with Israeli and Palestinian political leaders. They also met with Christians from parishes in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel. 

Bishop Kicanas said that in Gaza, Christians spoke of feeling abandoned by world Church communities.

He noted there is an astounding inequality existing between the lives of people in Gaza—where some 56,000 are unemployed—and those living in Israel. 

He said that in Egypt, Iraq and the Palestinian territories, Christian organisations and religious congregations play a vital role in supplying much-needed educational, medical and childcare services. 

“Hopefully, this will create a sense in (these) societies that we all have dignity and human rights,” said the bishop. 

On his first visit to the Holy Land in 18 years, Canadian Archbishop Richard Smith, said the experience involved a lot listening. “I’m finding layer and layer and layer of complexity,” he said. 

The Canadian archbishop, who was participating in the coordination for the first time, said, “When one is an observer and (does) not understand this situation from the inside, I think we have to do a lot of listening and reflecting before being able to make some comments which can in any way be helpful.” 

Reflecting on Pope John Paul II’s statement that there can be no peace without justice and no justice without peace, he noted that there seems to be a lack of forgiveness on both sides. 

“One thing essential for forgiveness is an attitude of profound humility that recognises that, in some way or another, everyone is contributing to the problems,” he said.

“It is very easy to point a finger at the other, but what we all know as Christians is (that) for there to be genuine conversion of heart or genuine transformation, the first thing we have to examine is our own situation. And I’m not hearing a lot of that (here), he continued.” ......

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