Holy Land bishop pleads for Christianity to be peace instrument in Middle East

(Photo: REUTERS / Ammar Awad)Nigerian pilgrims pray inside inside the Grotto, where Christians believe Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus, during Christmas celebrations at the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem December 24, 2013.

A Holy Land bishop in his Christmas message has asked people all over the world, to pray for all Arab and Middle Eastern Christians, so that Christianity will be an instrument of peace and reconciliation.

Munib A. Younan, Bishop of Palestine and Jordan in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land said that when the world thinks of Middle East Christians, it should realize the region where they live is not just one country.

Conditions differ in each country he said in his message which focussed on Syria which is gripped in a dire civil war that stretches the resources of neighboring countries battling to care for more than two million refugees who have fled their country.

"The situation in the Holy Land is vastly different than in Syria or Egypt and the situation in Jordan is much different than what is happening in Iraq," said Younan.

His message came in a year that Christian leaders from the major churches have warned that Middle East Christians are beseiged in different conflicts afflicting a region in political turmoil that is often violent.

When it began the struggle in Syria was between the regime and the opposition, the bishop reflected in his Christmas message.

(Photo: Young Kun Park / Ecumenical News)Bishop Mounib A.Younan, President of the World Federation responds to a question during an interview during the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Busan, South Korea on October 31, 2013.

"As the conflict has shifted toward sectarian violence through the involvement of foreign fighters, Christians in Syria have grown increasingly worried," said Younan, who is president of the 70-million strong Lutheran World Federation.

"His Beatitude Gregory III, Patriarch of the Church of Antioch, has recently said that 450,000 Syrian Christians out of 1.7 million have already fled the country," noted Younan.


"Twelve nuns in Maloula were kidnapped by extremists for no other reason than that they are Christians. We ask: how can we stand with one another in the face of this violence. How can Christians around the world shape the approach of their governments?"

The bishop who did his theological training in Finland and at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago is a champion of working for inter-faith relations particularly between Christians, Jews and Moslems form his East Jerusalem base.

In his message he cites Hanna, a Syrian Christian, who wrote, "As a mother and a wife, I want to leave, but as a Christian, I want to stay. Every time my husband and I pray, God gives us a burden on our hearts: stay in Syria."

Younan said this was just one example that Syrian Christians are nationalist, they equally love their country.

"We also pray with Hanna and her husband that the situation in Syria may be settled.

"What Hanna expresses is typical to all of us Arab Christians in the Middle East. We love our countries. We do not consider ourselves a minority in need of protection from other religious groups or foreign governments," said Younan.

"We are an integral part of our people. Throughout the Middle East - and indeed in many places throughout the world - Christians are calling for equal citizenship with equal rights and equal responsibilities."

The Palestinian bishop said the response to growing extremism and discrimination "is to redouble our efforts to build civil societies that respect human rights, gender justice, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech."

Younan said that even if the situation continues to become even more dire, Christmas endures to show humanity to "the babe of Bethlehem."

"Even if powers and principalities are trying to oppress justice and persecute others who are different, Arab Christians, with all moderate forces and the silent majority, continue to carry the light of Christmas.

"The babe of Christmas asked us: 'Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom,'" he said quoting from gospel of Luke (12:32).

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