Middle East visit of WCC general secretary Kobia

From 14 to 22 April 2008, a delegation led by WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia took part in a public hearing on migration in Beirut, Lebanon and visited churches in  the United Arab Emirates and Syria.
Read more about the visits to Lebanon, the UAE and Syria.

"Migration is a human concern, not a Muslim or a Christian one, and therefore Christians and Muslims must act on it together."

Representatives of Lebanon's six most numerous faith communities shared this view at the Public Hearing on Migration in Beirut where the WCC general secretary began his Middle East visit.
[From left to right: Metropolitan Dr Boulos Matar, Maronite Church; Catholicos Aram I, Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia; Mr Muhamad Summak, Sunni community; Al Sheikh Al Jaafari Ahmad Abdel Amir Kabalan, Shi'ite community]

Lebanese Christian youth spoke powerfully of their attachment to their country in a context in which university graduates all face the question 'What am I staying here for?'

"Emigration has become an obsession that is in the heads of many young people", said Julie Nakouzi [left], a student at the Saint Joseph University.

In a sermon at the Anglican Holy Trinity Church in Dubai,

WCC general secretary Kobia encouraged the Christians who came as migrants to the Gulf states to - in the words of the prophet Jeremiah - seek the welfare of the city where God has sent them into "exile". He reminded them of the biblical mandate "to open up our relationships so that we may move from being strangers to being neighbours".

On Fridays, when work life stops in Dubai, all spaces at the Holy Trinity church compound are packed with worshippers.

The Anglican congregation which owns the land also hosts many others, worshipping in different languages and styles. As the minister leaves the church, more worshippers are already waiting at the door for the next service.

Children at the Saint Thomas Orthodox Cathedral of Dubai wait for the arrival of a procession with the WCC delegation as guests of honour.

Members of the WCC delegation, here Ms Doris Peschke, general secretary of the Churches' Commission for Migrants in Europe, start the centennial celebration of the Mar Gregorius Orthodox Christian Students Movement by lighting the candelabra.

Practically all the Christians in the Gulf - an estimated three to four million people - are expatriates who have come to the region for work and often stay for a limited number of years.

Most of them are from South Asia. The most numerous denomination is Roman Catholic. Here: the Roman Catholic Church in Jebel Ali, Dubai.

In the church compounds, Orthodox churches stand next to Evangelical and Catholic ones. However, often the churches are built facing away from each other, each encircled by a high wall.

At the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, Damascus, the WCC delegation witnessed just how much Christianity is part of Syria's living traditions:

During the Palm Sunday procession, children kiss the cross and receive a blessing from Patriarch Ignatius IV.

"If you want to preserve the Christian presence in the Middle East, do your outmost to find peace for Palestine/Israel," the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III (Laham) called on the ecumenical visitors.

The emigration of many, especially young Christians from the Middle East was a recurrent topic during the visit. As a symbol of the shared concern, WCC general secretary Samuel Kobia presented the patriarch with a cross carved in the wood of olive trees uprooted by Israeli occupation forces in Palestine.

"All Iraqis are trying to leave,"

Clara - a young woman working for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Damascus and a refugee herself - told the WCC delegation. "Since one year the United Nations tell us that they will find a solution [for Iraqi refugees in the region], but nothing happens."

"Paradise is a public area, not a private one,"

said the Grand Mufti of the Republic of Syria, Dr Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun (left, with WCC general secretary Kobia), advocating for a better understanding between Christians and Muslims during a meeting on Sunday 20 April. "It is open to good people of all backgrounds from around the world," he added.

"In the age of satellite television, both Christian and Muslim televangelists reach every home and tell people that the other religion is false,"

says Rima Barsoum, WCC programme executive for Christian-Muslim relations. These broadcasts, which receive much funding from abroad, threaten the traditionally good relations between ordinary people of different religious beliefs, she adds.

WCC general secretary Kobia (left) bends over to kiss a Bible in the Syriac language, a gift of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka Iwas (centre).

Syriac is a modern variety of Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus. It is still used in the Syrian Orthodox liturgy and, in some parts of Syria, even in every day life.

At the National Evangelical Church in Damascus, the WCC delegation (pictured with elders and members of the congregation) heard about the ecumenical engagement of this "minority within the Christian minority".

Its women's group is very active, each March, in the organization of the World Day of Prayer together with women of other denominations.

 

All pictures © WCC/Annegret Kapp
High resolution versions of these pictures are available upon request.

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