Allow me to share with you the experience we gained from the conference:
Our Arab region needs to promote these urgent notions without delay; it also requires proper and healthy media to support such values that stem from our Creator and feed into the dignity of humans. Arab Christians were and still are pioneering intellectuals defending human dignity through their lives or the space they are allowed in their varying communities to exercise the freedom of speech, thought, worship (which is different from the religious freedom) and contribution in all walks of life.
The presence of the Head of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in the Vatican His Eminence Bishop Claudio Maria Celli had a great impact especially that, in the nineties of last century (1994), he was the one in charge of establishing diplomatic relations between Jordan and the Holy See. In this visit, he met with the Prime Minister Dr. Abdullah Nsoor and with Princess Reem Al Ali during his visit to the Jordan Media Institute, where he was briefed on the exceptional work of the center.
The conference was attended by representatives of several religious and civil bodies, it enjoyed good media coverage locally and internationally. The conference underscored the importance of the pioneering and leading role religious media plays nowadays and how it can serve religion by revealing its true face and how it can destroy religion by using it to serve political and other interests. Yes, media indeed can either serve (Khadimah) or destroy (Hadimah) humanity.
Hence, the conference decided to tackle this new subject which was not put under focus in the past. I mean of course the Arab Christian media, which reflects the identity of Arab Christians by serving Arab and International causes and but not being close but open and at the service of human value like justice, peace, respect of human rights and defending them when necessary.
The conference took place in Amman, which is relatively distinguished for dialogue and high level of co-existence. The conference recognizes that open religious media also serves as a channel for communication with the various churches and with our brothers the Muslims, with whom we share the good and the bad of the present time as well as the past and future. Hence, the conference, which was attended by heads of the various Churches in Jordan and Muslim clergymen, stressed the importance of supporting positive dialogue through the various forms of media. In this context, I wish to quote from the speech of the former Prime Minister Mr. Faisal Al Fayez that he delivered during the conference:
“The Jordanian Leadership, Government and People strongly believe that the Arab Islamic Christian Address should be a universal one that builds on the shared denominators between the different religions and denounces extremism and dominance”.
The conference called very clearly for maintaining justice, peace and human rights in the Arab region and stopping violence by all feuding parties in more than one Arab country. During the conference, the Catholic Center for Studies and Media started a noble tradition and presented its Shield to the Muslim Professor Dr. Issam Sakhnini, a History Professor at Petra University for the book he wrote on the Arab Christian History and the oppression experienced by the Church at the early stages: "the Killing of Christians in Najran in 523 and in Jerusalem in 614". I appreciate the work Dr. Sakhnini did especially that he published in Arabic the speech of the Iron woman Rahm bint Azma', who refused to change her religion in Najran in the year 523; after the killing of her husband, she and her daughters preferred to die than to change their religion. This is a message that is good for our time; I hope that the non-violence of this message can be a call to stop the violence and bloodshed especially that which is committed in the name of religion as the followers of other religions are seen as enemies, where in fact they are not only friends but also brothers and sisters who work hand in hand in serving the Arab and human communities.
The question is, can this dignified professors and people like him continue this journey in history and shed the light on the suffering of Christians at after that period in history, where Professor Shakhnini has stopped. I have no answer to that question but it goes without saying that our region need brave intellectuals. The second person who received the Centre's Shield was the Christian Catholic Artist and Comedian Mr. Mousa Hijazine for his contribution to the development of political theater and freedom of speech, which is considered alongside religious freedom the most precious of all human freedoms.
Last year in a place not far from our recent conference , another conference titled "Arab Christianity... where to?" took place. At that conference, Bishop Yuhanna Ibrahim of Aleppo was present. Our conference took place last week, while Bishop Ibrahim and his brother Bishop Paul Yaziji are still kidnapped. We called during our conference for their release and recall what Bishop Ibrahim said when he was in Amman:
"The need arises today for influential Muslim voices that can spread hope in the region, where the thought of immigration is one of the most prevailing thoughts in the minds of Christians and Muslim in the region".
And while we continue our call from here (Milano) and pray for peace and security in Syria and the whole region , I close my speech with the words of Bishop Ibrahim: "the Christians of the Middle East want to be equal to all other citizens in rights and duties; we have all to work on entrenching the culture of citizenship in the region, otherwise Christians will face unfairness".
Dear friends, media must be a servant of Justice, Peace and Human Rights; otherwise it should seize to exist.
Arab Christian Media nowadays is caught between the rock and the hard place of secularism and political and religious ideologies, but hope remains big in the victory of those who defend human dignity and through that the dignity of the rightful religion and the dignity of God.
Arab Christian Media needs your support to continue to be a unity factor and to spread some of the hope that our region and the world need.
Peace be with you.
* F. Rifʽat Bader is Director General of the Catholic center for Studies and Media. Amman. Jordan (www.abouna.org)