I greet you all, and thank you for coming, and for your love and participation with us today in our prayer and our hope .
I greethonorable Bishop Michel Kassarji, Pastor of the diocese,and hisbeloved priests and deacons, and daughters and sons of ‘Beirut of the Chaldeans’Diocese, and also greet the honorable officials fortheirpresence .
1. This pastoral visit to the beloved Beirut Diocese has been an opportunity for me to pray and inflame hope, and exchange experiences and views to promote ‘Church Unity’and the communion between Chaldean dioceses from one point, and between our Church and its sister churches from another point, andalso with our fellow Muslims in submission to the Apostolic Exhortationof Pope Benedict the sixteenth: “The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness” so that our witness be real Christian, strong and influential.
On this occasion I would like to express the Chaldean Church gratitude and pride in your bishop and in what he had accomplished for you from services and achievements, and in your priests and every one of you for your love and your commitment to your heritage and ethics, and for your binding to your Bishop and your church.
2. I would like to urge you to keep your roots and your Authentic Eastern Christian identity, and hold on to them in front of the severe challenges designed to disrupt them. Remain and stand firm in your faith and raise your children on it as it is the path of hope to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Also I invite you to adhere to your church in Mesopotamia, and your homeland Lebanon, Lebanon of goodness and openness, Lebanon of diversity and freedom, Lebanon of multi-culture and unity and living together.
3. Chaldeans in Lebanon have deep roots and presence and interaction, and their literary and ecclesiastical patrimony, along with the heritage of Antioch and Byzantium and the Arabs,have great importance in the history of civilizations, accordingly it is their right to be represented in the State House of Representatives and Ministry, with other minorities. Evaluation should not be measured on the logic of the majority, but the quality and professionalism, where the quantitativeminority may have stronger effect thanthe majority.
The existence of minorities and their continuation depend on their ‘actual representation in all life facilities within the government’, as it will preserve and protect this existence, and it is a pillar of achieving genuine democracy and full justice.
4. I emphasize on the unity of Christian churches and the Ecumenical work, as today they are an existential necessity urgently needed to face the great challenges which threaten our survival. We have no future without them. I emphasize on the unity, and put on everyone the responsibility to achieve it, especially the Patriarchs of the East.
‘Unity’ is the desire of Jesus, and division is sin. It conflicts with the faith, and obstructs Christian witnessing. Our division was caused by cultural, political and personal, authoritarian factors and not spiritual. Our belief is one, but with different expressions, so there is no reason to stay divided. The Unitythat I refer to is not a Federation of Churches, neither special ecclesiastical identities melt in one style, but I mean unity within plurality, and communion built on one faith and celebration of the holy sacraments and the agreement on attitude and discourse. This unity maintains our presence and our continuation and our rights and our role. Once again I assure that there is no future for us if we remain small and regional churches closed on its self. Reform is a must. Reform is a matter of life or slow death! Openness and Regeneration and the Union should include the ecclesiastical structures and institutions and rituals and Christian education and theological discourse education systems.
People today can’t live their present unless they have hope. ‘Hope’ renews our lives as individuals and in groups, and in the Church; and renews our vision to the existence and future as confirmed by the Apostolic Exhortation to The Catholic Church in the Middle East: “By its witness, may the “brotherhood” of Christians become a leaven in the whole human family (cf. Mt 13:33)! May Christ’s followers in the Middle East, Catholics and other Christians as well, be one in courageously bearing this difficult yet exhilarating witness to Christ, and thus receive the crown of life (Rev 2:10b)! May they know the encouragement and support of the Christian world as a whole. May the trials experienced by some of our brothers and sisters (cf. Ps 66 :10; Is48:10; 1 Pet 1:7) strengthen the fidelity and faith of all!”(paragraph no. 99).We, in the Arabic Muslim-majority countries, need anew simple theological language easy to understand by Christian and Muslim, closer to the language of the Bible and the early fathers of the church, ratherto the language of Plato and Aristotle!
5. The challenges facing the Eastern Christians and threaten their survival are several. The feeling that prevails in Christians is that they are stuck in a game bigger than them. The movements of religious extremism and the invitation of some of them to atone the non-Muslims and urge publicly not to participate in their joy and grief, make us worried and horrified, and force us to leave our homes and migrate and alienate us from our land and therefore lose our identity. Clearly and with complete honesty, there is religious discrimination against Christians in our countries at least at the street level and in certain laws and legislation,for example:
· The freedom of religious conversion in only one direction,
· The personalstatus laws,
· The opacity upon Christian’shistory, thus making the average Muslim believes that a Christian is a stranger, and this generates within the Christian a sense of alienation that leads to immigration.
6. Let everyone understand that today religion, any religion, cannot be an ideology and set the laws of a contemporary country, and if that happened, it would be a disaster on the religion and the country together. Generally, the basisand laws of a religion are fixed, while the basis for governing is variable and based on interests. And, there is no Arabic solution unless by adopting “One Citizenship”, where the Arabic countries are mixture of peoples, nationalities, cultures, languages, religions and ideologies. So, I call on Arab leaders and Muslim religious authorities to remedy the situation and pursue those ideas that create discord and dispute, and harm the national fabric and undermine coexistence.
The Christians’ and Muslims’ clerics and of other faiths are requested to unite together and to deal courageouslywith full honesty and clarity with religious extremism and the exploitation of religion for political purposes, through educational plan based on openness on the other and accepting him; and seek to promote dialogue and mutual understanding and to strengthen bridges to peaceful coexistence among the peoples of the region, as peace is a common virtuewithin all religions.
7. We Christians, an essential and integral part of the fabric of the East, its culture and its history; our roots are deep and stretches to two thousand years, and cannot be uprooted. We held our homelands in our heart, and many of us have sacrificed their lives with their fellow Muslims in order to consolidate the values of freedom, sovereignty and dignity and co-existence. We want to live in our country, our land, without discrimination between majority and minority;we don’t want migration; we want to live in dignity as citizens enjoying our rights and performing our duties.
8. Christians in the Middle East need to continue to testify in their actual position, and despite the difficulties and suffering they should be a real sign of hope and peace to their people, and strive to improve dialogue and understanding based on human rights and religious values, and engage more in cultural, society and political activities, and not be afraid to claim their civil rights and equal citizenship.
9. What happens in the region concerns us, particularly what is happening in Syria from fighting between citizens of one country, we wish that fighting would stop so that Syria and the region will not slide into further chaos and violence, and we call on everyone to adopt the rationality and dialogue and understanding in order to achieve the needed reforms and inclusion in the political process. Fighting does not solve the problem, but it deepens it and yield death and destruction. The West must help to have respect for human rights on the same scale that it respects its citizens.
And, from this stand, I appeal to all those with good will to work for the release of the two honored Bishops:Yohanna Ibrahim and BoulousYazigi,and all kidnaped people.
10. And here I have to salute Lebanon in its uniqueness and originality and generosity to embrace all with warmth, and collaboration thus making him the shining face of the region, and an element of console, and a sign of hope. I hope that the Arabic countries would follow its step.
Thanks for Lebanon who welcomedpreviously the Palestinian and Iraqi Refugees, and today the Syrianwith all the accompaniedrequirements and challenges.This reception made the small Lebanon really large and different. I wish that the Lebanese would maintain the unity of their country, a mosaic of their 18 beautiful communities through understanding, love and cooperation.
I extend my warm thanks to the Maronite Church for its generosity in receiving and embracing the persecuted Churches during the previous years, and I pay tribute to the role of the churches of Lebanon in the area of education, culture, social and health services, and in the dialogue and interaction between different communities and religions. Let us appeal to God Almighty in this difficult time, to bestow on our countries safety and security.
O Lord of peace we beseech you, grant peace to our countries, Amen.