As living stones

A European bishop and the Synod for the Middle East

The whole Bible is a witness to events, to persons from which flow new ways of thinking and judging and deciding. The decisive and greatest event is “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself”. But it is impossible to know, love and follow him who is “Jesus Christ son of David, son of Abraham” without receiving the events that reveal Abraham and David and being closely attentive to the form, the pattern, the “Joys and Hopes, the Griefs and Sorrows” (Gaudium et Spes) that manifest the actions that show God’s wisdom and love.Now the setting of the story of Abraham, David, Jesus Christ is the part of the world we know today as the Middle East. Fidelity to the Word of the Lord demands that we open our minds to all those lands. What is more, the complexity of such issues as justice in those lands today cannot be understood without, for example, relatively recent events as the discovery of oil, two World Wars, the Holocaust; but the long history touched upon in the Bible offers a source for sounder understanding and deeper appreciation of hearts and minds today. I mean stories of ancient migration, slavery, rise and fall of empires, exile and restoration. And perhaps it is most important to recall how often the people named Israel found themselves apparently deserted by God so that the cries from an Auschwitz were not new and perhaps we must hear them all in the context of the cry of the event and him that makes us a new creation: “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabactani”.And the gift of that sound underlines the importance for every disciple of Jesus across the whole world today that the living stones, that is his followers who today walk the paths of Abraham, David, the Lord Jesus flourish in their lands. It helps to anchor our fidelity to the events, to the persons but above all to the Event, to the Person. It is the Catholic Church in the Middle East, one company who profess this faith, and therefore one in heart and mind who serve the whole Church and protect us from reducing our way to a lofty idea or an ethical choice, to a vague sense of a cloud of some sort of providence and a vague commitment to an undifferentiated association of all people.In the past and still today it is events that have shaped the story of these lands. It would be a temptation to try to change the stones of events into loaves by denying them, to seek to change the situation by spectacular power and to establish an overarching power to dominate and manipulate and force peace.But the Church is born from the pierced side of Jesus. We are because of him and what he accomplished. We are born from a reconciling deed and our way to respond to evil, violence, injustice must be true to him who speaks peace as he shows the wounds in his hands and feet and side. Let the book of Revelation bring this reflection to an end: that book, or better that letter of comfort to poor, small, helpless Christian communities, truly the book for the Church across the Middle East, has come alive for me from the visits to Persepolis, the city of Darius the Mede, in today’s Iran. The magnificent portrayal of mighty beasts, an expression of power and domination and security – salvation, made me notice there was no place for a Lamb: and I saw: the mighty processional stairs portraying “every nation, and tribe and people and tongue” made me realise their salvation is not of any empire or emperor but “salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb”.

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