by Gjergji Evangjeli
The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation Conference, a group of theologians assigned by the Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America on the Orthodox side and The Canadian and United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on the Catholic side, released a statement on October 26 condemning the sectarian violence against Christians in the Middle East and calling for continued support from the leaders of both Churches and the leaders of countries in North America and beyond to end the oppression of Christians in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine.
The meeting was co-chaired by His Eminence the Metropolitan Methodios of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston and by Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. The meeting also focused on issues pertinent to Catholic-Orthodox relations, such as matters of synodiality, papal primacy, priestly celibacy, and the role of the laity. It featured a panel discussion by Orthodox and Catholic seminarians of the Greek Orthodox Theological Academy and St. Augustine Seminary, respectively, titled “Steps Towards a Reunited Church: A Sketch of an Orthodox-Catholic Vision for the Future.”
One of the issues treated explicitly in the statement is the ongoing captivity of the two Orthodox Bishops in Syria, Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim and Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi, who were kidnapped by Syrian rebel forces earlier this year while on a humanitarian mission to help two kidnapped priests. The two prelates remain in captivity, with both of their whereabouts and the whereabouts of their kidnappers unknown.
The statement joined with the Clergy-Laity Conference of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston declaring that “[we] deplore the wanton destruction of Christian churches, monasteries, convents, orphanages and hospitals throughout the Middle East....We call upon the leaders of our nation to protest these unspeakable acts of terror and to work unceasingly to bring to an end the heinous genocide of our brethren.” They quoted 1 Corinthians 12:26 in saying that when one member of the Body of Christ suffers, the whole Body suffers and expressed solidarity with those undergoing persecution for the faith.
The past few years have been a very troubling time for Christians in the Middle East and surrounding regions, where Christians have suffered greatly as a result of the Arab Spring and the subsequent insurgencies in Egypt and Syria especially. Earlier this year there were a multitude of attacks against Christians, especially a series of decapitations and attacks on whole Christian villages that were terrorized and ordered to pay the Jizya by extremist rebel forces. During a raid on the Franciscan monastery of St. Anthony of Padua in northern Syria, Father François Mourad was shot eight times and died at the scene. In addition to these, the situation of Christian communities in Egypt has only recently and very slowly ameliorated. Earlier this year, there were various attacks on Christian churches that Egyptian Christians, according to Egyptian law, cannot repair or rebuild. The current Egyptian government has promised to do away with that law and to provide funds to help repair or rebuild the damaged churches, but whether that will come to fruition is yet to be seen. In late September, two suicide bombers attacked a church in Pakistan, killing 85 Christians and injuring 100 immediately after the Sunday service had ended. These instances show that Christians in these areas are in dire need for external aid and support and prayers from the faithful around the world.