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Christians in the Muslim World

A Bulwark Against Individualism

The character of the lives of Christian families in contexts where there is a Muslim majority emerged from the speeches of the Patriarchs of the Eastern Churches and of the Patriarch of Jerusalem of the Latins who were present at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family (Rome, 5-19 October 2014). We here offer some passages from those speeches.

Louis Raphael Sako, the Patriarch of Babylonia of the Chaldeans, observed in his speech of 7 October (which was published on the official site of the Patriarchate of Babylonia) that it is not possible ‘to separate preaching from pastoral work’ and added that some priests and bishops have forgotten this priority in order to dedicate themselves to ‘business and administration’. The Patriarch then expressed his ‘pride at the steadiness of Iraqi families in the face of the pressures of the Islamic State, for their perseverance in the faith and for the sacrifices and pain that they bear because of their faith’. As regards the subject of marriage, the Patriarch said a ‘family should be prepared spiritually, morally, socially and psychologically and should be accompanied by the parish’. As regards the West, the Patriarch stated that it ‘is dominated by an individualistic culture which, in concentrating on pleasure, has produced a state of moral degeneration and loss in many Christians’. These last, in the view of the Patriarch of Babylonia, ‘must courageously uphold respect for Christian faith because the freedom to believe, practise and bear witness to faith is a human right’.

 

 

Beshara Rai, the Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, concentrated on the differences between men and women and between Muslims and Christians in the legislation of the countries of North Africa and the Middle East. The Maronite Patriarch stated that above all in countries where there is no separation between religion and the state, the rights of Christian couples are violated and Christians and Muslims end up by not having the same rights. Here the example to look at is the Lebanon, an authentic exception because it is the only country in the Middle East in which the distinction between the state and religion already exists, like respect for the confessional identities of Christians and Muslims.

 

 

Gregorios III Lahham, the Patriarch of Antioch of the Melkites, stressed the ‘importance of the teaching of the Church in the context of the difficult circumstances that Christian families have to address in a society that is increasingly consumerist in character, with all the consequences that this has for the unity of the family and its mission’. The Patriarch laid emphasis on the mission of Christian families in a diversified and plural society, of which they ‘must be the yeast’. Taking up the words of Pope Francis, Gregorios III ended by affirming that the family ‘is nourishment for the life and the values of faith, capable of generating openness to different civilisations and building bridges between people’.

 

 

Fouad Twal, the Patriarch of Jerusalem of the Latins, identified the root of the difficult situation of the family as being a ‘radical change in culture engaged in by the West’ and also, although to a lesser extent, ‘in the East’. This transformation is the outcome of ‘radical secularisation, the absolutisation of individual freedom, and the independence of the person’ which generate a ‘net separation between faith and life’. With this premiss Msgr Twal then listed the specific challenges for the Latin Patriarch: the difficult political and economic situation which creates a hostile environment that is marked by violence, emigration and separation, whose most evident symbol is the wall between Palestine and Israel which divides families, parishes and the clergy; the Israeli law which impedes family relatives joining each other when one or two of the spouses is from Jerusalem; the changing of confessional loyalties which takes place among Catholics in order to obtain a divorce and have a second marriage; mixed marriages; the slowness of ecclesiastical tribunals; the persistence of the tribal system and the influence of parents in the lives of married couples. For these reasons, the Patriarch observed, there should be a closer accompanying of families and new programmes to prepare people for marriage and to guide couples, through meetings, conferences and a greater dissemination of support material. Msgr. Twal also requested that diocesan tribunals be ‘swifter in seeking solutions or issuing precise verdicts for couples in a state of difficulty’ and suggested that pastoral care for mixed marriages should be better organised so that they ‘become an opportunity and not a problem’.

 

 

From the Middle East there were also present at the Synod: Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak, the Patriarch of Alexandria of the Copts; Ignace Youssif III Younan, the Patriarch of Antioch of the Syriacs; and Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni, the Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenians.

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