CAIRO – From February 18-21, 2019, at the Catholic Coptic inter-diocesan Seminary in Maadi, Cairo, the annual meeting of C.E.L.R.A., the Conference of the Latin Bishops of the Arab Regions, was held. The topics dealt with were numerous and important – the protection of minors, youth ministry, the family and Christian formation.
Also this year, the body composed by the Catholic Bishops of the Arab Regions met to discuss the most current and urgent themes that involve the universal Church and, in detail, those of the Middle East.
The 2019 event took place in Cairo at the invitation of the Apostolic Vicar of Alexandria, Egypt, H.E. Adel Zaki, OFM, at the Catholic Coptic inter-diocesan Seminary of Maadi, from February 18-21. The welcome and stay of the guests were made possible thanks to the fraternal and discreet assistance of the seminary, Fr. Bishoi.
From the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem were Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Apostolic Administrator, Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, the Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem and Palestine; Bishop William Shomali, the Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan; Fr. Hanna Kildani, the Patriarchal Vicar for Israel, Fr. Jerzy Kraj, OFM, the Patriarchal Vicar for Cyprus and Fr. Rafic Nahra, the Patriarchal Vicar for the Hebrew-speaking Catholic community.
The days were marked by moments of liturgical prayer and the Eucharistic celebration, both in the seminary and at the Basilica of Notre-Dame of Heliopolis.
This annual meeting, headed by Archbishop Pizzaballa with the help of the general secretary, Fr. Pietro Felet, SCJ, was an opportunity for the bishops of the Arab regions to take stock of the situation of their local churches and to discuss common pastoral issues. After an overview of local ecclesial realities, there was an enriching round of experiences starting with the theme dealing with the satisfaction of the new priestly and diaconate ordinations, and the concern for receiving the weakest: the abandoned, orphaned children, migrants, for which some ecclesial communities have shown their concrete closeness.
The theme of children and the protection of minors were further investigated in the light of the meeting in the Vatican (which would have happened shortly thereafter – February 21-24) precisely on the conduct to be adopted in cases of child abuse.
In this regard, the C.E.L.R.A. had already moved earlier for the approval of the binding Guidelines for all. During the meeting, the Vice-President of the Assembly first listened to the opinion of the Bishops on the subject, and then invited them to draw up, within their parishes, a Code of Conduct to be made public and consultable by any institution.
The work continued by identifying the problems common to all the dioceses represented and by looking for a solution that was as widely shared as possible. Among the most critical issues were those related to the lack of attractiveness of young people towards the Church and the decline in vocations. Reading keys to analyze this theme were the recently concluded World Youth Day in Panama and the synthesis of the last Synod of Bishops on Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment, which took place in October 2018, in Rome. In this regard, it was deemed necessary to invest time and energy in the training of formators, key figures in the involvement of young people. It is therefore essential to identify and prepare charismatic leaders capable of animating and exciting young people.
We also felt the need and desire to organize a Middle Eastern meeting of youth pastoral animators in view of the upcoming World Youth Day 2020.
From the topic of youth, they moved on to the family, another particularly sensitive issue given the increase in divided and hurt by various forms of discomfort that inevitably affect families and also the children. To meet the human, social, psychological and moral malaise that affects Christian families today, the Bishops have insisted on the need to prevent the creation of new irresponsible unions. It is fundamental, in fact, that couples intending to raise a family are instructed and guided by the Church, which certainly cannot be exempt from such a great and important responsibility.
Preparation for marriage and the accompaniment of young married couples for the first years of marriage were the solutions that C.E.L.R.A. has identified as the best and most opportune to support spouses and families.
By having a debate, the Bishops became aware of the flashpoint represented by the drowning of the people’s faith and, in particular, the attitude of people to build an image of God tailored to their needs, regardless of the teaching of the Church, very often perceived as a “service distribution company” and not as a mother. This attitude is dangerous insofar as one isolates Christ from His Church and leads the faithful to structure a “do-it-yourself” spirituality.
In response to this disturbing drift, the Bishops agreed to turn to their priests that they might better prepare and revise homilies and catechesis, so as to change the obligatory distinctive character of their content and insist instead on the mystery of Christ and the transforming power of grace.
In the meeting among the Bishops there was also an ecumenical vein, which emphasized the opportunity to encourage the drafting of a single translation of the Bible for liturgical use, common to all the Churches. In this regard the assembly gave a mandate to the commission for the liturgy to send this request to the competent organs of the Holy See for the approval of the Missal, the Liturgy of the Hours and the revised translation of the diaconal, presbyteral and episcopal ordination rites.
Also on the subject of ecumenism, the meeting was very moving, rich in communion and fraternity, with Pope Tawadros II, Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, and Patriarch Ibrahim Ishac Sidrac of the Coptic Catholic Church.
Finally, a note of satisfaction could not be missed for the historic visit of Pope Francis to Abu Dhabi. The Bishops in particular spent a long time and with great interest on the document concerning the human brotherhood for world peace and common coexistence, and felt the need to spread its content in order to improve the education of the faithful, both clergy and laity.
At the end of the meeting, the Bishops of C.E.L.R.A. thanked the Apostolic Nuncio of Egypt, H.E. Bruno Munarò, for his constant and appreciated presence among them during the course of their work.
Below is a list of the members of the C.E.L.R.A. present at the meeting:
– H.E. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, OFM, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem – Vice-President,
– H.E. Jean Sleiman, OCD, Archbishop of Baghdad of the Latins, (out sick)
– H.E. Giorgio Bertin, OFM, Bishop of Djibouti and Apostolic Administrator of Mogadishu,
– H.E. Paul Hinder, OFM Cap, Apostolic Vicar for United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yemen, – SE. Mons. Camillo Ballin, MCCJ, Apostolic Vicar for Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia,
– H.E. Adel Zaki, OFM, Vicar Apostolic of Alexandria in Egypt,
– H.E. Georges Abu Khazen, OFM, Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo in Syria
– H.E. Cesar Essayan, OFM Conv, Apostolic Vicar of Beirut in Lebanon
– H.E. Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem and Palestine,
– S.E. William Shomali, Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan,
– Rev. Fr. Jerzy Kraj, OFM, Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Cyprus,
– Rev. D. Hanna Kildani, Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Israel,
– Rev. D. Rafic Nahra, Patriarchal Vicar for the Hebrew Community of Expression,
– Rev. Fr. Pietro Felet, SCJ, Secretary General.
Filippo De Grazia