Middle East Council of Churches

Unofficial news from the Middle Eastern Christian Ecumenical organization.

Maintained by Tom Scudder

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Friday, October 10, 2003
Reformed Church in America Delegation in the Middle East.

A group of senior clergy and denominational staff from the Reformed Church in America is currently visiting Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Israel/Palestine. John Hubers is writing a series of diary entries (misnamed a "web log" on the site) - it can be accessed from RCA's news page, or you can click on to the first four entries below:

UPDATE (October 13): 3 new entries, from their visits to Lebanon and Syria:

posted by Tom at 4:20 PM

Monday, October 06, 2003
Zenit News Services: New Chaldean Archbishop: Muslims Expect Much from Christians
BAGHDAD, Iraq, OCT. 2, 2003 (Zenit.org)

At a time of vengeance in Iraq, "Christians are called to show forgiveness and reconciliation," says the archbishop-designate of the Archeparchy of Kirkuk of the Chaldeans.

Archbishop-designate Louis Sako, who had been a parish priest at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Mosul, had his archiepiscopal appointment confirmed by the Pope last week.

"We must work for reconciliation," the archbishop-designate said. "There is a Christian minister in the new national government. It might be the beginning of a presence which in any case must spread to small centers and peripheral institutions. The Muslims expect much from us."

He said he believes "that encouragement must be given to every effort for dialogue and forgiveness so as not to fall into a dangerous path for the future of the country."

As is traditional in Eastern-rite Churches, the election of the new archbishop was carried out within the Synod of Bishops of the Chaldean Church. The synod met in Baghdad from Sept. 16-24. The Pope gave his consent to the election in order to ratify the Chaldean Church's communion with the universal Church.

"Life is slowly getting back to normal" in Iraq, the archbishop-designate told SIR, the news service of the Italian bishops' conference. "The attacks against Americans are perpetrated not so much by Iraqis as by [non-Iraqi] Arabs. However, the entire population says it's pleased with the change" of regime.

"After 35 years of dictatorship, two wars with 1 million dead, 12 years of embargo, and over a million emigrants, today one can think and live freely again," he continued.

Yet, much remains to be done in terms of peace, which "is the fruit of a plan and a long path," he added. "The people must be educated in peace, dialogue -- and this is not achieved with arms."

posted by Tom at 1:34 PM

Why should Iraq pay Saddam's bills?, asks Justin Alexander of Jubilee Iraq in an editorial for Iraq Today.

Since Iraq cannot possibly pay even the annual interest on $200 billion, the total will be reduced. The question is whether the reduction will be sufficient and negotiated in a fair way. What generally happens to indebted countries is that the Paris Club, a cartel of the major creditors countries, decides on a level of payments which they think can be sustained indefinitely, and requires debtor countries to submit to economic policies designed by the IMF. The Paris Club, despite dealing with the debt of countries such as Indonesia, Congo and the Philippines - all of which inherited debt from brutal dictatorships - has never admitted that any of its members' debt claims might be odious [that is, invalid because it was incurred by a dictator and used to further his dictatorship], and there is no reason to expect it will make an exception of Iraq. Jubilee Iraq (www.jubileeiraq.org), an NGO combining Western and Iraqi campaigners across the political spectrum, has been calling for a fairer process of debt negotiation than the Paris Club, which gives Iraqis a strong voice and questions the legality debt claims which are odious. Meetings during the first of three weeks of consultations have confirmed that most Iraqis are united in insisting that they have suffered enough from Saddam and should not pay his bills. Unity on this issue is essential if Iraq is to assert herself and break free of Saddam's financial legacy of debt, which hangs like a sword over Iraq's economic future.

posted by Tom at 1:27 PM

From Christian Aid: Child Kidnapping Becoming Common in Iraq:
A spate of child kidnapping cases has hit Iraqi cities in recent weeks, according to reports received by Christian Aid staff in the region.

Speaking from Amman in Jordan at a meeting of humanitarian agencies, Oliver Burch, Christian Aid's emergency programme manager for Iraq, said many Iraqis had told him of an alarming growth in crime, including kidnapping children for ransom.

'I was told by the Patriarch of Assyrian Eastern Church, His Holiness Maredde II, that unemployment is the biggest problem and that the economic situation is pushing people into crime. His Holiness said kidnapping children and asking for a ransom from parents was becoming more widespread,' said Mr Burch.

'He told me that 20 children were recently found in a house in Baghdad. Many girls won't now be sent back to school due to parents' fears.'

Mr Burch said that he had received similar reports from other Iraqis at the conference. 'I understand that it started in the city of Basra and has spread to Baghdad. Abu Marba - an Iraqi contractor working with Christian Aid partner the Middle East Council of Churches - told me of a gardener who works for his organisation whose daughter was kidnapped - so it's not restricted to the well off.'

posted by Tom at 1:10 PM

From Al Jazeera's web site: Europe's Catholics Urged to Visit Middle East:
Europe's Catholic bishops have agreed to urge their flocks to visit shrines in the Middle East in order to sow peace in the region and support isolated Christians.

Church leaders from 34 countries backed the initiative at a weekend meeting in Vilnius, said Juozas Ruzgys, spokesman for the host the Lithuanian Bishops' Conference, on Sunday.

"The bishops seek to revive the ages old tradition of pilgrim journeys to the Holy Land, which has been forgotten amid all the conflicts," said Ruzgys, speaking on behalf of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences.

"Every Christian who goes can help to stop the chain of victims and hatred in the Middle East by spreading a culture of dialogue and tolerance. Political and diplomatic means are not enough," he added.

Pope John Paul has said peace in the Holy Land was a particular theme for prayer in 2003. He has often appealed to end violence in the region.

Something not emphasized in the article, but which is important to Middle Eastern Christians, is the importance of reaching out to the local community, to visit the "Living Stones" of the region, and not just the dead stones that make up the shrines.

Living Stones Pilgrimage by Allison Hilliard and Betty Jane Bailey is a good guidebook that focuses on introducing pilgrims to the Christian communities in the Holy Land.

The International Center of Bethlehem (warning: annoying java applet navigator thingy) runs an Authentic Tourism program dedicated to connecting pilgrims with the "living stones". They can be contacted at annadwa@planet.edu, or see their Contact Info page

posted by Tom at 12:32 PM