01-09-2013 - Traces, n. 8

middle east
“The soil for a true communion”

At the stand for the Appeal for Religious Freedom, Noha and Said take turns every day to collect signatures. They came from Alexandria, Egypt, to volunteer at Rimini, saying, “It’s a miracle that we are here.” Other friends were unable to come because, during the week of the Meeting, the situation in Egypt was still very hot, after the clashes in the Rabaa and Nahda Squares between the supporters of the removed President Mohamed Morsi and the Egyptian security forces. During these days of tension, curfews, and accusations flying from both sides, the Muslim Brotherhood denounced the army for excluding it, while they themselves were blamed for the attacks on Coptic churches. The liberal Vice-President Mohamed El Baradei resigned because of the army’s violence. The number of victims grew, and in the meantime former President Hosni Mubarak was freed. 

“Egypt is not split in two.” Wael Farouq, Professor of Arabic at the American University of Cairo, a Muslim, was among the signers of the Meeting’s Appeal against the persecutions of Christians. “Egypt is not split in two. All Egyptians are united against a militant and armed extremist group that demonstrates its hatred of Christians. Defending Christians is a duty for me, as a practicing Muslim and as a personal friend of many Christians.” By now, Wael is part of the family of the Meeting, and through the friendship with him the Cairo Meeting was born. The army’s removal of Morsi is considered by observers as a coup d’etat, and they fear the return of an authoritarian regime. “In human history, every new thing that happens cannot be grasped and understood right away. It has always been like this,” continues Wael. “The army arrested the elected President and formed a new government, but this was desired by the millions of Egyptians who have been filling the squares for three years. Just as they rebelled against Mubarak, so too they found no answers with the army that governed in 2012, much less in the too many errors of Morsi.” And not just this. “The decision to depose him was made by many parties, a team that announced the change of government and is composed of the army, the Salafites, the Social Democratic Party, the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, and Tamarod, the movement of the revolutionaries. If the military is not loyal to the people, because it is tempted by power, the people will not accept it. But it is an error to reduce what is happening to a conflict between generals and Islamists.”
Here at the Meeting, he follows everything live and with grave concern. “My people’s pain is great, but I have learned that pain is not the bad thing, and that the bad thing is not pain. The bad thing is when we are outside of reality and inside ideology. Instead, pain becomes the soil for communion, and gives me hope. I believe that everyone desires this good, even if not everyone recognizes it. Testimony exists for this reason: the witness is the person who shows the recognition of his desire and his experience.”

Embraced. You see this as he speaks of his friendship with Abdel-Fattah Hassan, who is also here at the Meeting. Hassan is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and even served as a member of Parliament for the Brotherhood. Wael has a very harsh opinion of the Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, because he sees in their rise to power an increasing danger of extremism and religious discrimination. “But the only thing that overcomes ideology is friendship,” recounts Wael, “and this I learned from Christianity because I was embraced in a totally natural way–these friends had no problem loving me and showing me their love.” He suffers when others ask how he, an Arab Muslim, can defend Christians: “If they ask me, it’s because my love is not evident. I never asked my CL friends why they act this way with me. The reason was evident. They loved me. It would be like asking why you breathe. Not only is love evident, but it is sufficient for everything.” He does not say that he is Hassan’s friend “even though” he is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood: “Jesus loves without saying ‘even though.’ Learning this from the Movement and from the Meeting deepened my religious experience and taught me that there is no truth without freedom.”


“They are our brothers and sisters, courageous witnesses–even more numerous than our martyrs in the early centuries.”  In his heartfelt message for World Mission Day, this is how Pope Francis defined the 100,000 Christians killed every year because of their faith, as well as all those Christians who are discriminated against and suffer all kinds of violence.
This year, the Meeting wanted to embrace the Pope’s cry through a proposal, the appeal for persecuted Christians, in the words of the Appeal, “a dramatic reality about which little is said, which is concealed or deliberately erased as regards its true dimensions.” The goal is to encourage national and international institutions to defend, look after, protect, and guarantee the existence of Christians the world over,” and to ask that “Christians be allowed the elementary right to seek and testify to the truth.”

The appeal addresses “all people of good will” because “the recognition of the role, including the public role of the faith and of the contribution it can give to the progress of human beings, is a guarantee of freedom for everyone, not only for Christians,” also because “the evangelical message is in itself a dispute against all conformity, inflexible to all power. Consequently, the existence of Christians is in itself an antidote to the intrusiveness of power.”
The document, which garnered thousands of signatures during the week of the Rimini Meeting, will be presented to the Italian government so it may become one of the points that marks the Presidency of the European Union, which Italy will assume (in turn) in the second half of 2014. The appeal may be signed online at www.meetingrimini.org.