A reminder that ‘Catholic’ means more than Roman Catholic. The ancient Churches of the East are working ever more closely and may have something to teach the rest of us abour synodality.
In the East, either we are Christians together or we are not
The work of the Continental Synodal Assembly of the Catholic Churches of the Middle East began this morning (Monday 13.02) in Bethany – Harissa (Lebanon).After a prayer for the victims of the earthquake that struck Syria and Turkey, Father Khalil Alwan, secretary general of the Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the East and general coordinator of the Synodal Assembly, opened the proceedings by recalling the Pastoral Message that in 1992 the Catholic Patriarchs of the East had sent to their faithful in the Middle East and to those scattered around the world, entitled: “The Christian presence in the East, witness and message”. …
After a prayer for the victims of the earthquake that struck Syria and Turkey, Father Khalil Alwan, secretary general of the Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the East and general coordinator of the Synodal Assembly, opened the proceedings by recalling the Pastoral Message that in 1992 the Catholic Patriarchs of the East had sent to their faithful in the Middle East and to those scattered around the world, entitled: “The Christian presence in the East, witness and message”. For Father Alwan, “this letter traced the path of the Catholic Churches in the East and summarised their identity and future with the word ‘presence’. This ‘presence’ is embodied, effectively and authentically, following the example of Christ and His Church, in the Arabic language and heritage of which we are builders and in the Arab civilisation that we have helped to establish. Our presence is also a presence at the service of man without distinction or discrimination. It is an ecumenical presence for common cooperation; it is a presence of dialogue with people of goodwill, Muslims and Jews; and, finally, it is a presence with a global character, thanks to our children scattered throughout the world, because it is a communion of faith, love and civic belonging wherever we are”. He continued: “Thirty years after this ‘road map’, seven Catholic Churches are meeting today: Copts, Syriacs, Maronites, Melkites, Chaldeans, Armenians and Latins. We have come from the Holy Land, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Armenia, to listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Churches and to pray and reflect together on our common concerns and share our future aspirations with a hope that does not disappoint. Many things unite us, we are united by the conditions in our countries, where we all often lack freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom for women and freedom for children. We all try, according to our energies, to fight corruption in politics and the economy. We all seek to practise transparency in our religious and social institutions, and wish to practise responsible citizenship and fight poverty and ignorance. We all suffer from the emigration of our children, who have seen their horizons for a dignified life shrink, leading to the diminishment of our communities and our witness in the land the Lord has chosen as his dwelling place. However, we, the children of the Church, are not only united by the concerns and difficulties of life, but we are also united by one baptism, one faith, one love and one hope. On the basis of this, which unites us, we convene our Synod Assembly this week to conclude the second phase of our ‘Walking Together’, the continental stage. We have ensured that our assembly will be as His Holiness Pope Francis wanted it to be”
Original photo of Nablus (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0): Dr. Michael Loadenthal
Day 8 “They left for their own country by another road”
Psalm 16– You show me the path of life.
Matthew 11:25-30– Because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent, and have revealed them to infants.
We do not know what the wise men thought – they who were experts in astronomy and navigation – when they were warned to return by another road. They may well have been very confused, but the same light that illumined their journey showed them that there was another road, another possibility. They were called to change direction.
We often find ourselves bound by our familiar ways of doing things and of seeing the world. When these ways or ‘roads’ are closed, we wonder how to proceed and continue the journey. We have to trust that the everlasting One who gave us the light, can always find a way forward when our ways and paths are blocked. A fresh start is always possible when we are willing and open to the work of the Spirit.
As churches we look to the past and find illumination, and we look to the future in search of new ways so that we can continue to shine the light of the Gospel as we journey by another way, together.
when we only know one way and we think we must return to it,
when we think that all roads are blocked, and we fall into despair,
we always find you there, creating a new unexpected path before us.
If we search our maps and find no route,
nonetheless we always find you, who lead us by a yet more excellent way,
trusting that you will always lead us back to you
and forward in unity together. Amen.
Journeying on parallel paths or often in opposite directions
We are called by ‘another way’
to become pilgrim companions,the people of The Way.
Compasses and maps orientated
route finding and navigating together
our backpacks not burdensome, our boots crunching on,
rediscovering ancient paths,
walking humbly together with our God.
Global: What other ways of journeying together could we explore that would lead us into a better future?
Local: What do we take for granted about our daily rhythms? What blessing might someone of another tradition receive from the worship in your church? How might the worship of your church be perceived by someone of another tradition?
Personal: How does it feel when your familiar ways or traditions are challenged?
Global: Find out how communities from all over the world joined in pilgrimage for climate justice in 2021. Plan as churches together to continue the journey to a better future for the planet and for us all. Find out more at christianaid.org.uk/campaigns
Local: Organise a local pilgrimage between the churches in your area, for example, you could walk to each of the church buildings or find your nearest pilgrim route.
Personal: Journey familiar routes by another way, for example walk 50% more slowly on your errands today, what do you notice? How do you see things differently?
Original photo of Nablus (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0): Dr. Michael Loadenthal
‘We Saw His Star in the East’.
In this fragile and uncertain world, we look for light. We look for the good within ourselves, but often we are so overwhelmed by our weakness that hope fails us. Our confidence rests in God, who in wisdom, enables us to hope for his mercy. We are surprised when it comes in human form: Christ is the light in our midst! God’s gift to us is a ‘spirit of power, and love’. We are drawn forward on the way to this perfect light by God’s Holy Spirit, not by relying on our own strength and ability.
In the midst of darkness, the star from the East penetrates the depths of the darkness that separates us from one another. The star’s light continues to shine and to change the face of history. Throughout the ages, by the lives of Christ’s followers, the world has come to know the hope that is inspired by the Holy Spirit.
And the Risen One continues to shine, like a beacon guiding all into this perfect light and overcoming the darkness which separates us from one another. The desire to overcome the darkness that separates us compels us to pray and work for Christian unity.
Creator of light,
illumine our path by the light of Christ
who moves before us and leads us.
May he be a beacon for our pilgrimage.
Enlighten us and dwell within us.
Raise us up and draw us to your perfect light.
Guide us to discover a manger in our hearts
where a great light still shines.
We thank you for the gift of that unfading Star,
Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.
Heal our divisions and draw us together.
Psalm 139:1-10 Your right hand shall hold me fast 2 Timothy 1:7-10 This grace… has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus
Reflection: Go and do
(see http://www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo) Global: Visit the website of Embrace the Middle East and see what actions you can take to be in solidarity with Christians of the Middle East. Local: Organise a candle lit vigil with the churches in your area as an act of unity. It doesn’t have to be in person but each church could encourage members to put a candle in their window at an agreed day and time. Personal: Take time this week to star gaze. Let your eyes settle on an unfading star and pause in reverence and prayer before the Creator of light. You don’t have to go outside you can search for and visit an online planetarium.
Hymn Verse How brightly beams the Morning Star! What sudden radiance from afar Doth glad us with its shining, Brightness of God that breaks our night And fills the darken’d souls with light Who long for truth were pining! Thy Word, Jesu, only feeds us, Rightly leads us, Life bestowing; Praise, oh praise such love o’erflowing. Johann Schlegel, tr. Catherine Winkworth
Questions Reflecting on the past year: Global: What could the role of the Church be in proclaiming the good news of the Gospel in a world where there is so much injustice? Local: Where have you seen signs of hope in your community, especially during a time of pandemic? Personal: How have you sought ‘the light’ in the midst of darkness?
The week of prayer for Christian Unity 2022 will last from 18 -25 January. this year the prayers and reflections are led by the Churches of the Middle East. In these three days leading to the Week of Prayer, we offer extracts from the Introduction to this important time.
The story of the Magi visiting the Holy Family in Bethlehem is one very familiar to us. Indeed, we have recently celebrated Christmas; the Feast of Incarnation and Epiphany. The Magi have sometimes been seen as a symbol of the world’s diversity – different religions and cultures – that comes to pay homage to the Christ-child. The story might therefore represent the unity of all created that God desires. The Magi travel from far-off countries, and represent diverse cultures, yet they are driven by the same hunger to see and know the new-born king and are gathered into the little house in Bethlehem in the simple act of giving homage.
In this we can find a metaphor for Christian unity: that is, of different Christian peoples drawn together in their common search to recognise Christ, to know him and to worship him and witnessing to wider need for unity and to overcome injustice.
This text has been chosen by the churches of the Middle East, the history of which was, and still is, characterised by conflict and strife, tainted with blood and darkened by injustice and oppression. Since the Palestinian Nakba (the exodus of Palestine’s Arab population during the 1948 war) the region has seen a series of bloody wars and revolutions and the rise of Islamic extremism. The story of the Magi also contains many dark elements, most particularly Herod’s despotic orders to massacre all the children around Bethlehem who were two years old or under (Matt 2:16-18). The cruelty of these narratives resonates with the long history and difficult present of the Middle East.
It was in the Middle East that the Word of God took root and bore fruit: thirty and sixty and one hundredfold. And it was from this East that the apostles set out to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The Middle East has given thousands of Christian witnesses and thousands of Christian martyrs.
And yet now, the very existence of the small Christian community is threatened as many are driven to seek a more secure and prosperous life elsewhere. Like the light which is the child Jesus, the light of Middle Eastern Christianity is increasingly threatened in these difficult times.
Please remember in your prayers this Sunday our sisters and brothers in the Eastern Churches. Many of them face hardship and persecution, as they did in the earliest days of Christianity, which unfolded in the Middle East. This post from FACE tells us about the day of prayer and is followed by a letter from Cardinal Michael Fitzgerald, former Papal Ambassador or Nuncio to Egypt.
Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians – 9th May 2021
What is the Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians?
The Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians is an annual day of prayer which enables Eastern and Western Christians to come together in communion through prayer. The event unites Latin rite dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church in Europe with dioceses of the Eastern Catholic Churches in union with the Bishop of Rome.
When is the Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians?
The Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians will take place on the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 9th May 2021, with the participation of Christians from all over Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa and India.
Why is the Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians on the Sixth Sunday of Easter?
Sunday after Sunday, during the Easter celebrations, Eastern and Western Christians hear the Acts of the Apostles which witness to the first preaching of the Gospel. These readings remind us of the origin of the Eastern Churches and the history of the first Eastern Christians, who brought the Gospel to us. Nowadays, many of these Eastern Christians are oppressed and persecuted, and struggle to survive and to pass on our faith to their children, in their own lands where Christianity was born and first spread.
A day of communion through prayer.
On the Sixth Sunday of Easter, we invite Western Christians to recite the following bidding prayer for Eastern Christians:
Let us pray for peace in the world, especially in the Middle East. May the Christians in these lands be strengthened in their faith so that they may continue courageously to give witness to Jesus Christ.
How to celebrate this day?
We ask you to say the prayer as part of the International Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians
We ask you to share this intention and the prayer with your family and friends
We suggest that parishes include the intention of Eastern Christians in the Prayers of the Faithful during Mass on the Sixth Sunday of Easter.
Who are the Eastern Christians?
The Eastern Christians in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa are direct descendants of the Early Christians and trace their roots back to apostolic times. There are more than 26 million Eastern Christians living in the Middle East and surrounding regions. For Western Christians, they provide a direct link to the Apostolic Church, leading us to the roots of Christianity and showing us, through their tradition and witness, a living faith in Christ.
How can you help Eastern Christians?
Pray for Eastern Christians. You can use our prayer for Eastern Christians (above) or join our prayer group to receive a monthly prayer, a reflection and information on an Eastern saint. Please do sign up to our prayer group: https://facecharity.org/prayergroup/
Engage with Eastern Catholic Churches. There are several Eastern Churches in the United Kingdom. You are welcome to participate in their liturgies and share your common origins. You will receive a warm welcome.
Support Eastern Christians through our projects in education, healthcare, pastoral support and inter-religious dialogue, which are organised under the patronage of the bishops and religious communities of the Eastern Catholic Churches. You may support these projects here: https://facecharity.org/give/
Letter from Cardinal Fitzgerald
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians is fast approaching. It will take place on the Sixth Sunday of Easter (Sunday, 9th May 2021), with the participation of Christians from all over Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa and India.
This Day of Prayer – promoted in the UK by Fellowship and Aid to the Christians of the East (FACE) in partnership with the Congregation for Oriental Churches – will offer Eastern and Western Christians an opportunity to be united in prayer during the time of Easter.
It will offer us in the West an opportunity to think of the Eastern Churches and to give thanks to God for all that we owe them: the first preaching of the Gospel, the origins of the monastic tradition, the early Church Fathers, and above all the witness of the Eastern Christians down the centuries, which has been, and still is, an inspiration to our faith. This Day could also be an occasion to give thanks for the recent pilgrimage of Pope Francis to Iraq and to draw inspiration from its message of solidarity, fraternity and hope.
The Eastern Christians were the first evangelisers without whom Christianity would never have spread to the UK. Today, the Eastern Christians, many of whom are suffering from the effects of war and from discrimination, now face the added crisis of the Covid epidemic, with its threat to their livelihood, health and well-being. This is a crisis within an already existing crisis! They deserve our prayerful support.
In commending this Day of Prayer to you, may I suggest that you bring it to the attention of your family and friends, perhaps sharing with them the following prayer:
Heavenly Father, we pray today for peace in the world, especially in the Middle East. By your heavenly grace, strengthen the faith and hope of Eastern Christians. May they be blessed with peace and prosperity in their countries. May we be inspired by their devotion and witness to the Gospel, by their love and compassion for all in their communities, and by their courage, their endurance and self-sacrifice. Through their charity, tolerance and friendship, bring peace and reconciliation to those troubled lands, where Christianity was born and first spread. This we ask of you through Christ our Lord. Amen.
I trust that this Day of Prayer, despite the restrictions caused by the current pandemic, will bring comfort and assurance to Eastern Christians. In our solidarity and communion, may we all be renewed by the hope we place in the Risen Christ.
With the assurance of my prayers and with my warmest wishes for a joyful Eastertide,
Nana wearing her official ring at a family wedding.
The day Fr Daniel’s reflection on relics arrived there was a family discussion on jewellery, in particular my mother-in-law’s bequest to her grandchildren. One daughter had a diamond-set ring, but fiancé was unhappy about using one that had come down through her side of the family.
Another daughter had received a ring from her own fiancé at a very public occasion – no other ring would do for him. Third daughter has her grandmother’s engagement ring but no-one to present it to her so far.
My wife wears my grandmother’s spare wedding band; Nana had lost it and only found it after getting a new one. My ring is made from my father’s broken gold watch. ‘Don’t bury it with me, pass it on and tell the story,’ I said. We all agreed, but my wife, who works in the hospice, said that many want to be buried with their wedding rings. Good reasons can be given for both points of view. I like the relic of my father that goes everywhere with me in this life. I’m sure we’ll be together in the next, by which time Abel may be wearing it.
One interesting set of relics in Canterbury Cathedral were buried with Archbishop Hubert , who served in the reigns of Richard I and John, and dug up in 1890: his chalice and paten and his crozier and ring. Hubert was a crusading archbishop, who is said to have met and talked with Saladin. Sometimes his relics are put to use at the Cathedral, but they can often be seen in the treasury displays.
Our family relics invite us to pray for each other, living and dead, and those who may wear these trinkets after we are gone. Hubert’s invite us to pray for him, but also for peace in the Middle East.