BEIRUT: A gathering of Catholic patriarchs in the Middle East urged Christians Thursday to hold onto their lands and holy places despite the ongoing popular uprisings in the Arab world, which have raised fears about the presence of Christians in the region. They also called for a unified Easter holiday to boost Christian unity.
Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, who chaired the four-day conference of Catholic Patriarchs in the Orient at the Maronite patriarchate’s seat in Bkirki, called for cooperation between Catholic and Orthodox churches and for “a dialogue of truth and life with Muslim brothers, Jews and other sons of Asian and African religions who are living with us in our countries.”
The patriarchs gave special attention to the current wave of popular upheavals in the Arab world and discussed a field study on the current situation and its impact on people, particularly Christians.
Thousands of Christians fled Iraq following the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 fueling worries over the fate of Christians in the region, while recent attacks on Christian Coptic churches in Egypt have only enhanced these fears.
The patriarchs also said that Christians should “hold onto their land and the sacred places in their historical homelands and to have confidence in the future” despite the current turmoil amid the “Arab Spring.”
The patriarchs stressed the need for national dialogue, respect of human rights and national reconciliation. They also underlined the need for “social and political reforms as a means of achieving civil peace and justice and renouncing violence as a means to bring about change.”
In an indirect reference to uprisings in the Arab world, the patriarchs called for “cooperation and supporting communications with moderate forces in our societies to broaden the basis of national participation,” and encouraged secularists’ involvement in public life.
The patriarchs also recommended “a serious attempt to unify the Easter holiday among all churches and find ways of guaranteeing practical formulas to implement this urgent request by all Christians.”
The date of Easter changes annually based on the movement of the moon, and is determined using different calendars by the Eastern Orthodox and Western Christian churches.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 18, 2011, on page 2.