Message for the Twelfth General Assembly
of the Middle East Council of Churches
16-20 May 2022, Wadi El Natrun, Egypt
Your Holiness, Your Beatitudes,
Your Eminences, Your Excellencies,
Dear General Secretary, Dear Participants,
“Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27). It is with these words of our Lord, which are the motto of the Twelfth General Assembly of the Middle East Council of Churches, that I wish to greet, on behalf of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, all distinguished participants in your meeting. These words were pronounced by Christ walking on the waters while the disciples' boat was beaten by the waves in a midst of a storm. As we all are aware, the boat is often used as an image of the Church but also as a symbol of the ecumenical movement. The endeavor of all Christians towards unity is represented as a boat afloat on the sea of the world, with the mast in the form of a cross and the disciples of different communities sailing together towards unity thanks to the mast of their faith, the wind of their prayer, the anchor of their hope.
Today, violent storms are surrounding the boat of the Christians of the Middle East, and indeed they are affecting all humanity: the terrible consequences of the continuing conflict in Syria, the suffering caused by violence and discrimination, the emigration of many Christians from the area, the emergence of new divisions among Christians, without forgetting the evils that affect the whole world, such as climate change, the pandemic, and war in so many places, including Europe. These threats have led to an increasing tendency among Christians to revert to a closed confessional mentality based on their own specific socio‒cultural identities and particularisms.
In order to avoid communitarianism and to better live the mystery of ecclesial communion, synodality, this "common path", is the way indicated to all Christians by the Holy Spirit. Providentially, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity for this year 2022 has been prepared by the Middle East Council of Churches, and has proposed to Christians all over the world to pray on the theme of the adoration of the Magi (Mt 2:1-2). Clearly this journey of the Magi is full of lessons for the Christians of the Middle East and for their witness. In these Magi walking together, we can see the ecumenical "common path" or syno/odos of Christians towards full communion: by walking together towards Christ, Christians draw closer to one another.
The Middle East Council of Churches has played a remarkable role in this “journeying together” of Christians and in promoting and shaping ecumenical life in the region. The Council has strengthened the bonds of togetherness and of common witness at the regional level through meetings, training, theological reflection, diakonia and social service, advocacy, interreligious dialogue and the promotion of the human person, especially youth and women. For all these efforts and particularly for the people who have carried them out, we should give thanks to God. It is my hope that this Twelfth General Assembly may confirm the leading role of the Middle East Council of Churches in promoting unity and solidarity among all Christians in the region, a unity which is an essential condition for a better future for all.
In this endeavor, it is my honor to convey also the encouragement and prayer of His Holiness Pope Francis. It is not excessive to say that the Middle East, and the Christian presence in this region, has been one of the primary concerns of Pope Francis during his pontificate. The Holy Father visited Egypt in 2017, the United Arab Emirates in 2019, Iraq in 2021, and he will visit Lebanon in a few days; he invited the heads of Churches to a day of reflection and prayer on the Middle East in Bari in 2018 and another on Lebanon in the Vatican in 2021. These visits and meetings help us to rediscover one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, and to discern what we have learned from one another, and can also encourage us to strengthen what we already have in common, that is baptism, through which we are already members of the one Body of Christ.
Your Holiness, your Beatitudes, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord continues to tell us: "Do not be afraid". The Resurrection, which our Churches recently celebrated, is the foundation of our common faith in the final victory of Christ over death and sin. We know that the Risen Lord will lead us towards the unity for which he prayed at the eve of his Passion. Like the Magi, like the disciples of Emmaus, let us walk together towards the blessed day when we will be able to eat and drink together His Body and Blood.
In renewing my cordial greetings in the Lord and my best wishes for a productive and effective General Assembly, I look forward to hearing about the fruits of these days of common reflection, fraternity and prayer, during which the Holy Spirit will not fail to guide all of you with His gifts. For that, I assure you of my fraternal prayers and those of all in the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
From the Vatican, 28 April 2022