01-08-2007 - Traces, n. 8

The Middle East  Solitude overcome

“We Are Here. We Can Say to Anyone: Come and See”
A journey among the CL communities of the Middle East, where the Christian presence is increasingly threatened, but also where there are those who continue to weave friendships, starting from a given: “affirming the positive in everything”

by Roberto Fontolan

in Beirut, they gather every Friday for School of Community in a parish in the north of the city. In Alexandria, Egypt, they can finally read The Religious Sense in Arabic. In Jordan, a husband and wife are weaving together friendships. In Jerusalem, the small Italo-Israeli-Palestinian-Maronite community continues living with intensity a prophetic experience in the city “to which all aspire, to which all hearts turn” (in the words of Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Custodian of the Holy Land, who spoke at the Meeting in Rimini). On the occasion of the La Thuile gathering, we had the opportunity to meet all together. The CL members in the Middle East see the trial, the responsibility, and the particular call of their lives, and willingly speak of all this with the wisdom of Simon or the sparkling eyes of young Mariam…
Cessine, 42, a teacher in Lebanon: “In our small community, about ten people, there are Latins, Maronites, Melchites, and Syrians. We’re a piece of Lebanon, home to about fifteen Christian rites. But we resist particularism and fragmentation. Now Christians are gravely divided in politics between pro-Syrians and anti-Syrians, pro-Sunnis and pro-Shiites, and pro-government and anti-government. We’re constantly in a post-war state –and a post-civil-war state –a war that lasted so long that it’s hard for us to reconstruct the dates. Now there’s the aftermath of the Israeli war in the south. Our country has many weaknesses, and is in a very precarious situation. But since the beginning of the year, we have been experiencing a new consciousness: in everything, we affirm the positive and put trust in our experience of friendship and unity. We never skip a School of Community, notwithstanding protests, street closings, and road blocks. It’s been our point of reference. But we see clearly the crisis of the Christians, all these young people who want to leave.”
Said, 43, a teacher in Egypt: “This is a grave problem for us as well. A Christian can’t find work if the head of the company is a Muslim. Life in the city and in social spheres is very difficult and sometimes hostile. So the various groups close in on themselves increasingly, with the Christians remaining isolated in their parishes and schools. For our young people, going abroad and forgetting all these problems is a dream that is almost always prohibited.”

Simon, 55, Director for AVSI in Jordan: “We start out from an even more elementary point of departure. Here, we’re lacking the very idea of who Jesus is. For an Arab, it’s almost impossible to speak about his own experience; it never happens. Nobody even thinks of doing it, much less making it the object of dialogue with others. There’s a reserve, a sense of privacy about deep feelings that buries personal questions. We start out with simple friendships, telling each other about everyday things,  building  trust and reciprocal familiarity.”
Rony, 46, Director of Logistics for AVSI projects in Lebanon: “We’re here. It’s our certainty; we start out from here, be we few or many. There are families who had to live abroad during the civil war, then returned when things were calm in recent years, only to flee again, desperate, because of the war in the south. They know the importance of coexistence in our land; they know well that we’ve been a positive model for so long, but when there’s danger, when the safety of their children, life, is at issue, then they prefer risking their principles, true education, and leave. Others, the younger ones, go work in the Gulf countries, make money, and, when they return, you realize that their point of view has changed, that they have other interests, that consumerism has conquered them. I also have to say that often the Christians don’t grasp the gravity of the problem. They say that the young people may go to the Gulf, but that they’ll return; sooner or later they’ll return. But how do they return? With what mentality? With what desire to build something? This is the point. In the face of the temptation to flee, which is becoming ever more widespread, we are trying to affirm the positivity of life, no matter what the condition. Many might think this is crazy, but we…we are made for that. The signs are not lacking. In our work, there’s a human dialogue, the same dialogue that normally existed between two Lebanese even though they were of different religions. It’s an important fact. We hope that we, too, can begin reading The Religious Sense together in Arabic.”

Ettore, 42, an engineer in Jerusalem: “Our situation in part is similar to that in Lebanon, and in part similar to that in Egypt. In the Holy Land, as you know, there are great tensions on both sides, the Arab and the Israeli. Our presence, our life lays no claims, has no presumptions. We’re here and this is where we’re meant to be. We can tell anyone to come and see, see that coexistence is possible, being friends and even working together, building in common. In the small and in the big, the method doesn’t change: in the experience of an enormous diversity, of colossal differences that at times are fearsome, the method is recognizing that the heart of man, deep down, is identical.”

Mariam, 24, a teacher in Egypt: “At home, five siblings and two parents share two rooms, and a bit more space would certainly be nice. I see my friends, their tiredness, and hear their talk, the idea that somewhere else they’d be better off. I have to say, though, that this idea has never occurred to me. Alessandria is my place, my land, my community. We’re not alone at all; this was confirmed for me at the Meeting [in Rimini]. This reality of our friendship throughout the world makes me feel peaceful. I know that in Italy and in America, in Brazil and in Japan, you think like me, like us. Jesus wanted us to be together, but together doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to live on the same street or see each other at school every day. Our friendship helps form a thought, and the thought is that solitude and fear are conquered.”