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Christians in Middle East foster inter-religious dialogue for peace

World Communion of Reformed Churches
News Release
11 May 2011

Christians in Lebanon and Syria are concerned about what is happening between Christians and Muslims in Egypt and its impact on the region, says a Lebanese Presbyterian educator.

“Stories from Egypt scare us that a focus on religious issues will create enmity between peoples,” says Najla Kassab who works with a church-based education programme serving parishes in Lebanon and Syria.

Kassab believes that violence in Egypt on Saturday – when 12 Christians were killed by Muslims and two churches burned – raises the need for churches to play a role in reconciliation and dialogue in the wake of the revolutions that are sweeping countries in the Middle East.

“We are at a time of questioning how change can happen in our diverse countries in a healthy way,” Kassab says. “Churches can help create opportunities for change through dialogue rather than violence.”

The educator and licensed preacher with the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon was speaking Tuesday in an interview in Geneva, Switzerland where she is attending meetings of the Executive Committee of the World Communion of Reformed Churches.

On Thursday, May 12 the Maronite Patriarchate in Lebanon is hosting a dialogue between heads of Christian and Muslim faith communities in Bkerke near Beirut. Representatives of churches and Muslim groups will meet to focus on how religious leaders can provide positive models for Christian – Muslim relations.

Kassab, who is in Syria frequently in her role as Director of the Christian Education Department of her church, knows churches are in a position to present a positive image of inter-religious groups.

“Our church in Lebanon runs schools where most of the students are Muslims. Christians and Muslims study together. It is a dialogue of life,” she notes.

Now though, the church is afraid of chaos and the possibility that radical groups will take control in the new political structures that will emerge.

“Sometimes we turn things upside down but don’t know how to put them together again,” says Kassab who holds a Masters Degree in Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary in the United States.

Media images of beautiful young people in the streets demonstrating for change present a simplistic reading of the situation, the Lebanese educator believes.

“It is more complex than that. Today many Christians in Egypt who were demonstrating in the streets with Muslims are asking a question: is this the democracy we wanted?”

WCRC was created in June 2010 through a merger of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC). Its 230 member churches representing 80 million Christians are active worldwide in initiatives supporting economic, climate and gender justice, mission, and cooperation among Christians of different traditions.

Media Contacts:
Kristine Greenaway
Office of Communications
Email: kgr@wcrc.ch
tel:41 (0)22 791 62 43;
fax:41 (0)22 791 65 05

Submitted by:WCRC
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