Over the centuries, the world has defined Jesus in different ways: a great prophet of justice and love; a wise master of life; a revolutionary; a dreamer of the dreams of God … and so on. Many beautiful things. In the chatter of these and other hypotheses, the confession of Simon, called Peter, humble and full of faith, stands still today, simple and clear: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16). Jesus is the Son of God: therefore He is perennially alive as His Father is eternally alive. This is the novelty that grace ignites in the heart of those who open themselves to the mystery of Jesus: the non-mathematical certainty, but even stronger, interior, of having met the Source of Life, the Life itself made flesh, visible and tangible in our midst. This is the experience of the Christian, and it is not the merit of us Christians, it is not our merit, but it comes from God, it is a grace of God, Father and Son and Holy Spirit. All this is contained in Peter’s answer: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
The alarm is launched by Catholic priest Rami Asakrieh, of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, parish priest in Bethlehem of the church of Santa Caterina, near the Basilica of the Nativity. “My parish”, Father Rami reports to Agenzia Fides “is facing serious problems. The number of Catholic families in Bethlehem is shrinking. Now our parish has only 1,479 Palestinian families. Christians make up 17% of the city’s population, while in the past they were 90%”. The vertiginous decline of the Christian presence in Bethlehem – adds Father Rami – is linked above all to the exodus of young Christians who emigrate to other Countries. “We”, reports the Franciscan parish priest, “try to stop emigration, trying to provide help in many situations of need”. But the current political and economic situation of the town, surrounded by settlements of Israeli settlers, sees the number of cases of “unemployed faithful, who are depressed and drowned in debts multiplying”. “None of our parish faithful receive a single cent from these organizations”, concludes Fr. Rami.
The minority situation in which Christians are found in the Middle East is an urgent reason for meeting in what could be called an “ecumenism of life”. In his own Letter to Christians in the Middle East, the Holy Father underlined this ecumenical call to holiness for Christians in all the Churches of the Middle East: “The situation in which are you living is a powerful summons to holiness of life, as saints and martyrs of every Christian community have attested”.
When difficulties become suffering, this ecumenism of holiness becomes an ecumenism of blood. Since the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has made this topic one of his main ecumenical themes. Among the various statements, I recall his words at the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem: “When Christians of different confessions suffer together, side by side, and assist one another with fraternal charity, there is born an ecumenism of suffering, an ecumenism of blood. … Those who kill, persecute Christians out of hatred, do not ask if they are Orthodox or Catholics: they are Christians. The blood of Christians is the same” (25 May 2014).