The Salesian Province of the Middle East, founded over 100 years ago, is now present in seven countries. On Tuesday, 4 March, the Provincial Abuna Munir El Rai, gave the Goodnight to the Chapter members.
“Of all the Provinces of the Congregation this is one of the most complex,” he said. “There is great diversity of culture and language, history and traditions, a variety of Christian denominations in the Eastern Churches, as well as conflicts between the different countries, the unresolved Palestinian question, and the presence of a Muslim majority.”
The province includes many places that are sacred for the three great monotheistic religions. It has just under 100 Salesians, in thirteen communities in seven countries: Palestine, Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt , Turkey and Iran.
There are oratories, schools, parishes, vocational training centres and local centres of Salesian Cooperators, as in many other provinces, plus the Theological Institute of Ratisbonne. There are also the holy places of Beitgemal with important links to St. Stephen and the venerable Simon Srugi, the winery at Beitgemal and Cremisan, the Art Centre, the International Museum of the Nativity and the bakery in Bethlehem.
The Province of the Middle East coincides with the region that was hit by a wave of protests at the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011. The rioting and violence shook Arab society in all aspects (social, political, economic, cultural, religious, educational … ).
This is the context in which the Christian communities and the Salesian communities live. Together they bear witness of communion and fraternity, beyond the differences of culture, age and education. In the Salesian educational communities there is always a welcome for young people and adults belonging to different Christian denominations and the various rites, and there is growing attention to displaced persons and refugees. It is important to highlight their work in building dialogue, especially with Islam, through the educational services they offer to young Christians and Muslims together, whenever possible.
The Salesians and the Christian communities are an authentic minority facing many challenges with courage and sacrifice. The first of these is the challenge of building unity called for by the Catholic Patriarchs: “In the East, either we will be united as Christians or we will not be Christian.” The problem of emigration of Christians is on the increase: statistics show that some Churches (Armenian, Assyrian, Melkite, Maronite, Syrian Orthodox) are more numerous in the diaspora (50-70%) than in their area of origin. Middle Eastern Christians abroad are about 12 million, compared to 15-16 million in the region.
At the same time is also an increase in immigration. There are expatriate workers who come especially from the Indian subcontinent, the Philippines and Ethiopia. Many of them (about two million) are Christians. Despite the difficulties, there are positive signs of stabilization in Egypt. The three Salesian communities there have always been able to keep their schools and oratories open.
In Syria, there is nothing new to report beyond the unrest and violence that is already well known. The situation is very problematic. We do the best we can amid the daily uncertainties.
Instead of talking about the suffering caused by war, it is good to give thanks. “We thank all who help generously to alleviate the suffering of so many Syrians affected by the calamity of this war -benefactors, relatives, friends, charitable organizations and the Salesians.Their help enables us to offer assistance to those who need it. And there are still manyin need,” said the Provincial.
First Published by InfoANS