May light of peace shine from Egyptian people

With the dramatic fall of the Hosni Mubarak regime in Egypt, Christians worldwide have their eyes on what form of government will arise and how Christians will fare in the new political reality that emerges. As other Muslim majority nations find themselves swept up in the quest for more democratic forms of governance, the Christian minority holds its collective breath as to what place religious freedom will play in the emerging new forms of government. Of course, Christians fear the former governments could be replaced by more Muslim fundamentalist-style regimes like those found in Iran or Lebanon.

At a meeting four months ago at the Vatican, Catholic bishops from the Middle East met to share their fears and frustrations at the poor treatment of Christians living in non-Christian majority countries in the Middle East. They shared their alarm over the mass exodus of Christians from parts of the Middle East, where they face varying levels of discrimination and persecution. Before the fall of Mubarak, Coptic Christians were battling false rumors they were actively seeking Muslim conversions (which are against the law) and they were stockpiling weapons and preparing war on Muslims. Those were baseless, ridiculous rumors that led to much suffering for Coptic Christians.

Christian leaders met last summer in Mosul and urged the government in Baghdad to save an ancient community that reportedly has declined from 1.5 million in the late 1980s to around 400,000 today. Concerning the situation for Christians in Iran, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Thomas Meram said, “The Christian hears every day from loudspeakers, television, newspapers and magazines that he is an infidel and he is treated as a second-class citizen, but he stands firm and solid and doesn’t change his faith but becomes more courageous and proud of his faith.”

The October synod in Rome released a carefully worded overview of Christian-Muslim relations in the Middle East, saying, “Since the appearance of Islam in the seventh century and to the present, we have lived together and we have collaborated in the creation of our common civilization. As in the past and still existent today, some imbalances are present in our relations. Through dialogue we must avoid all imbalances and misunderstandings … Our duty then is to educate believers concerning interreligious dialogue, the acceptance of pluralism and mutual esteem.”

Here in the Diocese of Camden, we put into action this call to enter into dialogue with both our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters. Through our Catholic-Jewish Commission, Catholic-Muslim Commission and Interfaith Dialogue, we seek through dialogue, learning and charitable works together to create “mutual esteem” among our faithful. Our Jewish-Catholic-Muslim Dialogue of Southern New Jersey was very moved by the aspirations toward freedom and democracy unfolding peacefully in Egypt and decided to issue a statement of support. I’ll share with you some of the highlights of our statement.

“We support the people of Egypt in their courageous struggle to attain a peaceful democracy which ensures human rights, security, religious freedom and economic promise for all its citizens. We recognize that this revolution has a broad foundation, encompassing people of all faiths, social classes and ethnic backgrounds … We urge the U.S. government categorically to support the development of freedom and democracy in Egypt. The vast majority of Muslims in the world are in favor of peaceful democracy, a fact that is being demonstrated repeatedly. The most effective way to combat terrorism and extremism is to promote democratic institutions, education, employment and economic opportunity. Only then can a political state be created where citizens enjoy freedom of speech, freedom to determine their own futures and the freedom to practice their own faiths in the spirit of enlightened tolerance, humanity and compassion which lies at the core of all the great religions.

“We hope that the people of Egypt will act as a light to their neighbors in the Arab world to bring freedom, security and peace in the entire region. We express our support for the youth of Egypt and our hope that they will forge a nation in which their highest dreams and aspirations can be realized. Let a newly democratic Egypt help to bring a peaceful and just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with mutual recognition of sovereignty and commitment to security, not false security, which issues from repression, but the lasting security which comes from mutual respect and justice. Let Egypt take its place in the modern world as a nation committed to freedom, democracy, economic prosperity, religious tolerance and peace. This is our hope and our profoundest prayer.” Amen.

Categories: That All May Be One

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