European Bishops Discuss Aid for Arab Countries
Prelate Says Secular Freedom Is the Goal
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The commission began its three-day spring plenary assembly, which is focusing on the theme "Christian Churches in Maghreb and Mashriq," on Wednesday in Brussels.
In the opening address, Bishop Adrianus van Luyn, retired bishop of Rotterdam, Netherlands, acknowledged that "very few of us anticipated the revolutions and regime changes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya."
"The unrest and protests in other countries like Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, and also -- if somewhat more cautiously -- in Morocco and Algeria -- make it clear that the Arab world is in a state of turmoil," he noted.
The prelate observed that "the campaigners for the 'turning point of 2011' are young -- 60% of the people in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa are under 30 in age."
He added that they are "comparatively well educated, highly familiar with the Internet and the possibilities it offers -- and yet have no real future prospects."
"The chances of employment, despite good qualifications, are small," the bishop said.
"The longer that oppression by authoritarian regimes lasts, the less it is accepted," he noted. "Secular freedom seems to be the goal, not Islamization or a theocracy."
Bishop Van Luyn acknowledged that "when the COMECE presidium decided at the beginning of January that the next plenary assembly should focus on the Middle East, this was still entirely influenced by the bloody attacks against Christian churches in Egypt and Iraq."
"Despite the developments in recent weeks," he continued, "the position of religious minorities -- not only Christians -- remains precarious. They need to be protected."
"In view of recent events, though, we must occupy ourselves more extensively with the new situation," the prelate added.
He stated: "A whole series of questions arise: What developments can we expect after the expulsion or resignation of the old rulers?
"Does the western model of democracy really stand a chance in these countries? What might be the consequences of democratization without any real prospect of improvement in the economic situation?"
The bishop asked, "How can these countries be assisted in adopting a constitution which will guarantee the rule of law and the upholding of human rights -- including the right to full freedom of religion and the protection of minorities?"
He also brought up the issue of how to "deal with the expected increase in the number of refugees and migrants fleeing to Europe to escape the unstable situation."
Bishop van Luyn urged his colleagues to consider these questions during the assembly discussions.
"The Catholic Church does not have any coherent strategies, action plans or ready-made responses for these challenges," he noted.
"What she can offer is her readiness to participate in searching, thinking and working together to find solutions," the prelate said.
He continued: "We can draw upon the rich resources of experience and tradition and make them fruitful for the current challenges.
"We can have confidence that the Lord accompanies us in this endeavor and will not forsake -- he whose death and resurrection we commemorate and celebrate in the coming days."
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On the Net:
Full text of address: www.comece.eu/site/en/press/pressreleases/newsletter.content/1328.html