by Judith Sudilovsky
JERUSALEM (CNS) — Jesus is asking spiritual and civilian Christian leaders to be messengers of the word of God, especially in these difficult times in the Middle East, said Maronite Archbishop Moussa El-Hage of Haifa and the Holy Land.
“Do we witness to Christ in our lives, we who received the teaching of Christ?” the archbishop asked participants in the 13th Extraordinary Prayer of all Churches for Reconciliation, Unity and Peace. “Is Jesus with us and in us? Do we always remember the presence of Jesus in us? And how we live this presence?”
Speaking June 19, Pentecost on the Julian calendar followed by most Eastern traditions, Archbishop El-Hage said, “We came today to hear the word of God and celebrate the Eucharist, from all the Christian churches, and to open our hearts and minds to the work of the Holy Spirit and to listen to his inspiration.”
Archbishop El-Hage said that, at a time when Middle Eastern Christians are facing grave trials, it is imperative that they not be forgotten and remain in everyone’s prayers. He also prayed for participants in the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church in Crete.
Since 2010 Jerusalem churches have called on Christians around the world to join in a special intercessory prayer calling for reconciliation and unity among the churches and peace in the world. Emanating from Jerusalem and in recent years also broadcast abroad by Christian channels, the special prayer is hosted by a different faith community each time it is held. This year the service was at the Maronite patriarchal exarchate church.
During the a service, filled with traditional music led by a small choir and a musician playing a stringed instrument called the qanun, celebrants walked up to the roof terrace to complete the prayers. All the religious leaders turned to face the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, whose gray domes could be seen in the near horizon, and knelt together.
At one point the Syriac Orthodox bishop recited part of the liturgy, which was in the same language used in Syrian Orthodox prayer.
“It was a glimpse given to the church members, to show them that they are not so different from one another. It was so beautiful. There was a feeling of happiness,” said Veronique Nebel, a Swiss volunteer who initiated the idea of the joint prayer.
“The prayer is always a challenge for each one of us to believe what God has said to each of us: to live every day of our lives as human beings, each one wanting peace and unity. To believe in unity, not waging wars, using [weapons] or violence,” said Sister Lucia Corradin, a member of the Franciscan Elizabethan Sisters of Padua. “We have to go back to what the message of Jerusalem is, the city of peace. Peace is a value present in each human being; it is here even in this simple prayer to show that even in situations of contradictions, where there is violence and suffering, we don’t want that to be the last word. We want to remember that we believe in our values and our beliefs . . . to love each other.”
Juliet Alama said Christians in the Holy Land want to be united as one and forget about ancient disputes that make them look “silly around the world.” Using her family as an example, she noted that though she is Maronite Catholic, her husband is Latin Catholic, and they send their youngest son to the Armenian Orthodox School, even taking him to celebrate liturgies there with his classmates.
“We all believe in the same God, in Jesus,” she said. “This is a beginning. We don’t want any more fighting.”