Middle East Council of Churches

Unofficial news from the Middle Eastern Christian Ecumenical organization.

Maintained by Tom Scudder

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Thursday, May 08, 2003
Rest in peace, Jamil Rifai
posted by Tom at 4:13 PM

Miftah.org: Two views on the early days of the "Road Map":
  • No Guts, No Glory (May 3) - "Is Israel truly committed to peace? Are the Israeli people willing to make the necessary shift towards acceptance of the Palestinians’ right to freedom? Will the Israeli government fully withdraw its troops to the boundaries of June 1967, as stipulated by international law? Do the Palestinians want peace? Can they take a collective decision (at all levels of society) to stop attacks against Israeli civilians, which only tarnish the legitimacy of the Palestinian cause? Is the US willing/able to influence Israel to implement binding agreements, if necessary?"
  • What Lies Beneath - May 5 - "The Palestinian people's expectations of this political process are engulfed by suspicion and wariness. After 31 months of economic and social strangulation, political dead-ends, and extreme hopelessness, Israel is betting on a nonviable solution to suffice. The belief among Israeli hawkish leaders is that after two and a half years of continuous suffering, the Palestinians (people and leadership) will be more prone to compromise, even on fundamental issues. This demonstrates Israel’s own theory of relativity; making the Palestinians contemplate what used to be unimaginable!"

posted by Tom at 4:07 PM

Official MECC Site: International Delegation Returns from Iraq:
"The primary need of the Iraqi people is security," says Rev. Dr. Nuhad Tomeh. "First, security. Second, services - electricity, water - garbage is everywhere. And third, they need to send their children back to school. The schools have been closed, and many of them have been looted."

Dr. Tomeh, MECC International Linkage Coordinator, returned to Beirut today, May 8, from a 1-week inspection trip to Iraq. He travelled with a delegation of nine officers from church-related relief organizations from the Middle East, Europe and North America.

The group left Amman, Jordan on April 30 and arrived in Baghdad the same day. During their week in Iraq, they visited the northern cities of Mosul, Kirkuk, Suleimaniya and Erbil, and the southern city of Hilli. They saw the situation on the ground, and discussed the problems the country faces with local people as well as church leaders.

posted by Tom at 4:02 PM

Wednesday, May 07, 2003
Action by Churches Together: Places of worship became places of refuge by Hege Opseth, Norwegian Church Aid/ACT International:
Baghdad, May 6, 2003--Six-year old Caroline, who lit a candle for peace just before the war on Iraq broke out, is happy that the bombing has stopped.

"I was so scared that I did not dare to stay in Baghdad," the little girl says.

The majority of Baghdad's residents however stayed … and while the bombs fell on their city during the nights, several hundred families made their way to local mosques and churches, seeking refuge.

Safely back in Baghdad, sitting in her mother's lap, Caroline says, "Omi (my mother) sent me to some relatives in our village. There it was not so bad. Now it has been two days since I got home."

Caroline's mother Sane remained in Baghdad, and along with several other families sought refuge in the cellar of the Chaldean Catholic Church of St. Mary during the war. Night after night she heard the sound of the bombs.

"The only thing I could think of was my children. I was so scared that something would happen to them. I had to send Caroline away from Baghdad. Now I am just glad it is over. Maybe the children can go back to school soon and life can go back to normal, at least for the children," Sane says.

posted by Tom at 2:08 PM

Action by Churches Together: MECC convoy delivers relief items to Iraq by Guy Hovey:
Baghdad, May 6, 2003--The threat of being hijacked along the highway to Baghdad is a concern shared by many people who travel this road and one of the dangers the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) convoy faced as it traveled from Jordan to Iraq's capital this weekend to deliver much needed relief items.

The convoy - made up of six trucks and driven by local Iraqi drivers was loaded with 250 winter tents, 19,200 cans of meat, 1,000 food packets made up of oil, tea, beans, sugar, rice and detergents, 6380 blankets, 2,2 tons of BP5 high protein biscuits and a 40 foot container of medicines. Several members of the global alliance, Action by Churches Together (ACT) International donated the relief items - Norwegian Church Aid, International Christian Orthodox Charities, Church World Service. The medicines, which were immediately delivered to hospitals in the area, were donated by ACT member, Diakonie Austria.

MECC coordinator Edmond Adam said that the items are for a pre-positioned emergency stockpile as there is a real fear that current rations distributed to people by the old Iraqi regime under the oil for food program will run out mid-year, at which point people could start experiencing severe food shortages. "The outlook is bleak if people don’t start earning salaries soon enabling them to buy food," said Adam as he showed us the stockpile stored at the Old Ancient Church of the East in Baghdad.

The MECC stockpile is enough for 1,000 families in Baghdad and Mosul but Adam is realistic about how far the supplies will stretch and stated that "millions of families could be without adequate food in a couple of months." This view is reinforced by the ACT Regional Coordinator Eszter Németh, who added that "as the oil for food scheme was administered by the Iraqi Ministry of Trade, the distribution system is no longer in place".

It would appear that Iraq is heading for a classic ‘cash famine’, as families are unable to buy available food due to a shortage of work, cash and rising prices. Already, a kilo of apples can cost a month's salary said Németh. This is a view supported by Father Bashar of the Chaldean Church in Baghdad, who is worried that the lack of work to support families will lead to increased lawlessness as desperate families turn to crime to feed themselves. One problem is that government work places have been destroyed. "The coalition says that people should return to work but how can they when their places of work have been destroyed or looted? There’s nothing to go back to," said Adam of MECC.

As the temperature rises each day and people remember the extremely high temperatures of last summer, preparedness operations such as the MECC emergency stockpile will become more important. However, an aid worker in the city commented that "the funds we have are too meager for the what lies ahead." There are also worries of possible outbreaks of disease, as already inadequate water supplies have been potentially contaminated by untreated sewerage from broken down treatment plants. Adam believes that water-born diseases could pose a threat this summer, "although reports from the north of the country say that current disease levels are not above the norm."

Eszter Németh advocates for flexible and rapid funding from ACT donors. "What is needed is the ability to be able to react immediately when a crisis is identified" she said. With the summer coming crises can develop rapidly and soon spin out of control. It is clear that a wait of weeks or even months for funding to arrive will mean a delay in response time, often with deadly consequences for the most vulnerable, children and the elderly.

posted by Tom at 2:05 PM

International Crisis Group: A Middle East Roadmap To Where?
May 2, 2003

After several false starts, the Middle East diplomatic Quartet (composed of the U.S., the EU, the Russian Federation and the Office of the Secretary General of the UN) finally put its Roadmap to Israeli-Palestinian peace on the table on 30 April 2003. However, although the document has received widespread international endorsement, there is also widespread scepticism about its contents, about the willingness of the parties to implement its provisions and indeed of its sponsors to maintain allegiance to them.

The scepticism is warranted. The Roadmap adheres to a gradualist and sequential logic to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, a throwback to the approach that has failed both Israelis and Palestinians in the past. Its various elements lack definition, and each step is likely to give rise to interminable disputes between the two sides. There is no enforcement mechanism, nor an indication of what is to happen if the timetable significantly slips. Even more importantly, it fails to provide a detailed, fleshed out definition of a permanent status agreement. As such, it is neither a detailed, practical blueprint for peace nor even for a cessation of hostilities.

Yet, these and other worrying realities do not necessarily condemn the Roadmap to irrelevance. It is important to understand what the Roadmap is not -- but also what it can be. It should be viewed as a political document that -- along with significant unilateral changes within the Palestinian and Israeli arenas, and in the context of a transformed regional and international situation -- might conceivably serve as a catalyst and vehicle to help Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab world internalise the requirements and contours of a sustainable peace agreement. The Roadmap can become a mechanism around which efforts by Palestinians and Israelis to return to a genuine political process are organised -- indeed, further justifying these efforts by the promise of a political settlement.

posted by Tom at 1:55 PM

Four media articles about Iraqi Christians:
  • Catholic Times reprints a CNS report: Iraqi bishop's advice to U.S.: Help us, but leave quickly. Iraqi archbishop asks for autonomous government in harmony with religious convictions. The report features quotes from a number of Iraqi and other Middle Eastern Catholic clergy.
  • From crosswalk.com: Iraqi Christians Apprehensive About their Future: "Iraqi Christians are apprehensive about their future and waiting to see if a new government in their country will lean more towards a Western-style democracy or a Shiite regime with strict Islamic law, a Christian charity involved with churches in Iraq said on Friday." - the article is pretty good, although the overall site seems a bit suspect.
  • The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reprints a Washington Post story: 'Sad Easter' for worried Iraqi Christians:
    By Carol Morello

    Washington Post

    April 21, BAGHDAD, Iraq - In all his 57 years, Samir Ahad has never experienced an Easter Sunday so filled with sorrow, hopelessness and dread as this one.

    At every turn was a reminder of the war that left lives in shambles and usurped a government that had pampered the small Christian minority. Parishioners arrived at the Evangelical Protestant Church, where Ahad is the secretary, in cars pockmarked by shrapnel. The absence of the chocolates, colored eggs and new clothes that usually mark Easter services at the Presbyterian church underscored that the parishioners have no income to spend. The Italian organ donated by ousted President Saddam Hussein sat silent, for lack of $2,000 to repair it.

  • Finally, Electronic Iraq reprints an April 22 George Irani commentary from the Beirut Daily Star: Iraq's Christians and the challenges of the post-war setting which is less of a direct report and more of an analysis of the situation of Christians throughout the Arab world.

posted by Tom at 1:52 PM

Two old-ish articles pointed out by Fr. Ron Roberson of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in his monthly newsletter:
  • First, from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, a press release detailing efforts in the US Congress to secure Israel's recognition of Patriarch Irinaios' 2001 election to the Patriarchal seat in Jerusalem. Among those joining in the effort are Senator Joe Lieberman, America's most prominent Jewish politician, and Congresswoman Shelly Berkley, who has collected the signatures of almost all the Jewish members of the US House of Representatives in support of Patriarch Irinaios' case.
  • From Syriac Orthodox Church News: Ancient Syriac Gospel stolen from the Church of Forty Martyrs in Mardin
    April 18, 2003

    According to the Turkish newspaper Zaman, a 300 year old Book of the Gospels in Syriac were stolen from the Cathedral of the Forty Martyrs in Mardin. The robbers came to the church early yesterday and introduced themselves to a Syriac Orthodox boy as researchers. The boy let them into the church. They locked up the boy in the church and fled with the Gospel Book. Earlier, on January 7, 2003, the Church of the Mother of God in Diyarbakir was similarly plundered by criminals who remain at large. It appears that an organized gang of criminals is operating in Southeast Turkey. The church has appealed to the Turkish authorities to help protect the Syrian churches and monasteries in Tur `Abdin and its invaluable heritage from looting.

posted by Tom at 1:35 PM

Monday, May 05, 2003
Added to sidebar: US State Department's "Road Map" as archived by Churches for Middle East Peace. Please feel free to suggest any other appropriate documents to link.
posted by Tom at 3:49 PM

United Methodist News Service (via WFN): Work with Muslims requires sensitivity, board exec says
May 2, 2003

DALLAS (UMNS) - The rhetoric of some Christian organizations toward Islam "is not always helpful" for those doing ministry in Muslim countries, the top staff executive of the United Methodist missions' agency says.

The Rev. R. Randy Day emphasized that the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries never ceases to proclaim Christ in its work around the world. At the same time, he said, it's important for Christians to understand Islam, to be "students of the Quran as well as the Bible," in order to understand their faith and work cooperatively with Muslims.

Day spoke May 1 to the international United Methodist Council of Bishops during the episcopal leaders' semiannual meeting in Addison, Texas. The bishops, who met April 28-May 2, had asked Day to address the topic of Islam and evangelism.

The denominationwide mission board has a long history of relationships with people in Islamic cultures, particularly through providing relief following natural and manmade disasters, he said. Agency staff work in many countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East "where Islam is sometimes a militant and dominant force." Through its United Methodist Committee on Relief, the church is currently serving in areas that include Afghanistan and Iraq.

Working in those settings is not always easy, he said, noting that Islamic militants have killed many Christians. "The public rhetoric of some Christians is not always helpful in some of those sensitive settings."

Day avoided naming any specific individual or group. In the last two years, some well-known Christian leaders have condemned Islam. Those have included Franklin Graham, whose relief organization, Samaritan's Purse, is planning to work in Iraq.

UMCOR does not mix aid and evangelization, but reaches out to whomever is in need, Day said. The Bible says nothing about feeding, clothing or visiting only Christians, or about using food or any services in love to gain disciples, he noted. "That's why we strive to make sure that in all that we do, people know who we are and the deep Christian commitment of our organization.

"I realize that not everyone understands or agrees with our theology of service," Day said. "Sometimes our approach, which is shared by most mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic relief organizations, places us in tension with groups with which we find ourselves working in emergency situations."

UMCOR's approach "does bear gospel fruit in the long run," he said. Its relief work has been the prelude to the startup of United Methodist churches in Eastern Europe and parts of Asia, he said.

posted by Tom at 3:31 PM

Zenit News Agency: Iraqi Christian Leaders Want a Constitution That Respects Human Rights:
VATICAN CITY, APRIL 30, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Christian patriarchs and bishops of Iraq have asked that their country's future Constitution recognize fundamental human rights, particularly religious liberty.

In a signed statement published today by the Vatican press office, the religious leaders also called for dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

"When Christianity and Islam met, their respective 'holy ones' began the two religions in respectful and reciprocal coexistence," the statement affirms.

"By virtue of our original right of belonging to the most ancient peoples of this land, we claim for ourselves and for all those who live in it today, whether a majority or minority, united by a long history of coexistence, the full right to live in a state of law, in peace, freedom, justice and equality, according to the Human Rights Charter," the document continues.

Iraqi Christians -- Chaldeans, Assyrians, Syrians, Armenians, Greeks, and Latins -- ask that a future Constitution:

  • recognize religious, cultural, social and political rights;
  • envision a legal statute in which each person will be considered according to his capacities, without discrimination, so that each may have the right to actively participate in the government and the service of the country;
  • consider Christians as Iraqi citizens with full rights; and
  • guarantee the right to "profess our faith according to our ancient traditions and our religious law, the right to educate our children according to Christian principles, the right to freely assemble, to build our places of worship, and our cultural and social centers according to our needs."

The religious leaders' appeal is made "before everyone, the Iraqi people, rich in ethnicities and religions, the political and religious authorities, as well as to everyone who has the good of the country at heart, and to the leaders of the international community."

Iraq's 24 million includes 670,000 Christians, three-quarters of whom are Catholic, mostly of the Chaldean rite.

posted by Tom at 3:23 PM

Christian Aid: Christian Aid welcomes move towards a viable Palestinian state:
2 May 2003

Christian Aid today welcomed the publication of a Road Map for peace as a positive move towards resolving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Map - formulated by the Quartet of the US, the EU, Russia and the UN - intends to create an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel. Christian Aid agrees that this will provide the best opportunity to bring about an end to violence and poverty in the region.

However, Christian Aid's partners in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) are concerned that:

  • The Road Map does not acknowledge the inequality that exists between the two sides
  • Palestinian sovereignty is not endlessly postponed by the process
  • All parties must be guided by human rights, international law and key UN resolutions


Dr Bernard Sabella, Chief Executive of Christian Aid partner, the Middle East Council of Churches in East Jerusalem, said: 'The Road Map tends to forget almost completely the fact that Israel has created new facts on the ground, such as the annexation of East Jerusalem, construction of settlements, use of water and other resources found in the Palestinian Territories in contradiction to UN resolutions and international conventions, including the Geneva Convention.'

posted by Tom at 3:18 PM