Complex Mideast Demands Solid Formation for Christians, Says Patriarch

Addresses Chapter of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land

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AMMAN, Jordan, JULY 28, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The Latin-rite patriarch of Jerusalem emphasized the importance of educating and forming Christians in the Mideast, particularly in the Holy Land, to help them deal with their highly complex environment.



Patriarch Michel Sabbah made that point at the recent chapter of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, held in Amman. The Franciscans are custodians of the holy places with an official mandate from the Holy See and they serve the people who live around them.

"The societies to which you must proclaim the Word are two: on one hand, the diverse Arab and Muslim societies in Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt, and on the other, the Jewish Israeli society," the patriarch said last Wednesday.

"In all these societies we are and you are called to proclaim the Word of God" through prayer, charitable works and education, "both in the schools as well as in the parish," he said.

The faithful must be educated to love and edify their societies, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem said.

In March, the Assembly of Ordinaries of the Churches of the Holy Land issued a pastoral letter expressing the need to emphasize three points in the Christian education of young people and adults.

The three, he said, were sacred Scripture, "the commandment of love," and "civil and national education, which must be part of the general formation of Christians so that they will be able to become an integral part of their own societies."

However, "the aspect of civil and national education has been relatively absent in the education we have given to our faithful," he contended.

In fact, Christians are present in public life "more as private citizens than as Christians," the patriarch continued. They also suffer from a "minority complex," he said.

Therefore, "Christians must be educated to be adult in their relations with their societies," because there are still few who make the effort to "reflect, think and act," Patriarch Sabbah said.

Instead, among some Christians there is "perplexity about how to behave" and some do so as citizens "hiding their own feelings in the face of certain incidents," he said. "Others hasten to denounce discrimination, losing themselves in criticisms that fuel discontent and fear."

A "particular case of perplexity" is that of Arab Christians in Israel, some of whom "question their place in their Arab history and culture," the patriarch said.

"To these, as Church, we say: 'You must be loyal to your place in your Arab nation, to your Christian faith, and to the state of Israel in which you live. They are three different loyalties that do not contradict one another; rather, they must be complementary,'" he said.

The patriarch of Jerusalem acknowledged that "the situation is complex from the psychological, religious and political point of view," but it is here where "the Christian religious education given to our young people as well as to adults [...] must help to clarify, analyze and make correct decisions."

He added: "We must form them to accept themselves as they are, as God has willed them to be: Arabs, Christians and in the state of Israel."