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Newsletter, September-October 2016

Conference on Unexpected Gift of Mercy. Migration Processes: Risk of Fundamentalism or Indifference?

The international conference on 'Unexpected Gift of Mercy. Migration Processes: Risk of Fundamentalism or Indifference?' took place from October 7 to 9, 2016, in Milan, Italy. It was organized by the Italian foundation 'Christian Russia'. Among the participants were members of Christian Russia and Communione e Liberazione movement, professors and students of universities in Milan, Orthodox clergy in Milan and guests from Russia. The organizers proposed to analyze the problem of migration in the world today from the Christian perspective as it poses new challenges before the European society.

The three-day discussion began with a statistical review giving an idea of the problem of migration in the largest Italian diocese of the Roman Catholic Church - the diocese of Milan. Deacon Roberto Pagani of the diocesan department for ecumenism and interreligious dialogue informed the conference that there were more migrants in Milan than on average in Italy, in which they amount to some 8% of the population. Some 24% of the newcomers rushed to Lombaridia from African countries; 25% from Asia, but the greatest number of migrants, 38%, came from European countries, most of them are Romanians - a people with 'deep Orthodox traditions'. This data helps 'to get rid of prejudices' and fear of 'domination of Muslim migrants' in the Italian society, Deacon Pagani pointed out.

Prof. Adriano Dell'Asta reminded the gathering that Europe had experienced a mass inflow of refugees from the East already a century ago as a result of the revolution and civil war in Russia. What did the West get from it? According to the speaker, for the most part Russian migrants became 'a blessing for Europe': having lost everything they had, they preserved 'inner freedom' and conveyed it to the European culture. The professor focused on the cultural and spiritual contribution made by Russian emigres, showing how freedom can be used 'to live in mercy' in the hardest circumstances.

The second day of the conference, which took place in Seriate, the headquarters of Christian Russia, began with a presentation by Mons. Francesco Braschi on 'Charity, Mercy, Social Problems in the Magisterium of Pope Francis'. He showed that from the first days of his pontificate Francis centered his preaching on mercy to which he gave a new dimension. Thus, the pontiff proposed that priority should be given not so much to how to do charity as for each to recognize oneself as 'an object of God's mercy' and to think over one's own need for mercy, charity and forgiveness. This approachenables those who 'give the good' to receive 'the good that is even greater' than the good received by the addressee of their help and, accordingly, to feel grateful to them.

The head of the Romanian Orthodox diocese in Italy, Bishop Siluan (Span), spoke on 'Different Faces of the West in the Eyes of Orthodox Migrants'. On the basis of his own experience of service for 10 years in France and 12 years in Italy and testimonies of his flock, he highlighted the possibilities open to the Orthodox in these countries and stressed how much the French and Italians are open for dialogue with migrants. 'Your people are not afraid of strangers and we can see their openness and desire to meet others', he said addressing the Italians.

Rev. Giuliano Savina informed the gathering how the Ambrosian Refectory, a parish soup kitchen for the poor, works in cooperation with Caritas. 'To feed the hungry' - this commandment of Christ has inspired one hundred and a half volunteers, not only parishioners, who supply everyday meals for 300 people. These meals are prepared gratis by the best Italian cooks from donated foodstuffs; the interior of the refectory has been made by designers. Writers, painters, artists conduct recitals and meetings at the parish, etc. Besides, the Ambrosian Refectory has given rise to a social asylum for the disabled, refugees with many children and other initiatives.

'To clothe the naked' - this Gospel's imperative compelled Carla Sommacal and her friend from another parish in Milano to organize the collection and distribution of clothes for refugees. From this initiative other forms of aid to newcomers and poor women have grown, in particular, a counselling service for the expectant mothers in trouble.

Ms. Giovanna Parravicini, president of the Christian Russia foundation spoke in detail about the example of charity service, which was given in Russia over 150 years ago by Catholic Friedrich-Joseph Haass, 'the holy doctor Fedor Petrovich'. The Blagovest-info, a religious information agency, reported that the founder of the Christian Russia foundation, Father Romano Scalfi, who celebrated his 93th birthday on October 12, began translating into Italian the book by Lev Kopelev about Dr. Haass.

On October 9, the third day of the conference, the discourse about the charity service was continued by Ms. Margarita Nelyubova, staff member of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations. She described in detail the dynamic of the social service that had been carried out by the Russian Orthodox Church for a quarter of a century and its various areas and outlined possible spheres for an exchange of experience and cooperation in diaconia with respective Catholic partners.

Ms. Tatiana Krasnova, Moscow, founder of the Little Envelop from God internet charitable community, which helps children from the CIS countries to be treated in oncological clinics in Moscow, related three stories showing that 'people are ready to pity, help and reach outů, that it is time that we should return from the 'geopolitical and unhuman world to a world that is turned to each person, that is, a world in which there is a place for God'.

A great interest was provoked by the remarks made by Muslim Eissa Farouq Wael, professor of Arabic studies at the Catholic University of Milan. He posed 'the most important question: Is co-existence of Muslims and Christians possible? And he himself answered it: 'It is not only possible but also fruitful'. For an 'encounter' of people of different religious to take place, it is necessary to 'organize a space for it' and remember that 'it is only confidence in God's presence that allows seeing another person and his or her beauty'. 'The two religions do not meet. But Muslims and Christians can meet and it is the only way of living in today's world, to create beauty and charity', he said.

The conference was concluded with a creative report by the Christian Russia about major events which took place in the life of the foundation last year, and a discourse about the prospects of the organization which is to mark its 60th anniversary in 2017.

Based on the report by Yu. Zaitseva on blagovest-info.ru

Syrian children's peace messages to EU leaders and UN high commissioners

In early October 2016, as part of a campaign organized by the Christian Churches in more than two thousand public schools in Damascus, Homs and other Syrian cities, schoolchildren wrote messages and made drawings calling the world community to stop the war in the country. In their drawings, they captured their suffering endured during the war, and their dreams of a better future.

In these cities, festive shows were organized for children by joint efforts of various Christian churches. Children sent balloons aloft, on which they wrote: "We want peace!", "Give us back our childhood!", "No more war!"

Children suffered at most in the war in Syria. According to the Oxford Research Group, only in the first two years of war 11,420 children were killed, most of them - from explosive weapons (over 70%), 112 children, including infants, were tortured and killed. More than two million children can not attend school due to war.

In Brussels on October 12, and in Geneva on October 13, the high-ranking hierarchs of the Orthodox Church of Antioch, the Syrian Orthodox Church and the Melkite Church conveyed the Syrian children's messages to the European Union leaders and the UN high commissioners.

For that purpose the head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, His Beatitude Patriarch Gregory III Laham and hierarchs of Homs, one of the cities in Syria that was hardest hit by terrorists, Metropolitan George Abu Zahem (Orthodox Church of Antioch) and Bishop Silvanus en Nemeh (Syriak Orthodox Church) visited Brussels and Geneva. In Brussels, they met with the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker its vice-chairman A.Tajani, President of the European Parliament M.Schulz and representatives of various European political parties, and in Geneva - UN High Commissioner for Refugees F.Grandi and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid Al-Hussein.

The idea of organizing such campaign was first discussed at the meetings between the leaders of the Syrian Churches and members of the Orthodox-Catholic delegation from Russia that visited Damascus on April 7, 2016, at the instruction of the supreme authorities of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Roman Catholic Church as the follow-up to some of the agreements reached during the meeting of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia and His Holiness Pope Francis in Havana.

The members of the abovementioned delegation, Hieromonk Stefan (Igumnov), DECR secretary for inter-Christian relations, and representatives of the Kirche in Not Foundation, priest Andrzej Halemba and Mr. P. Humeniuk, also arrived in Geneva on October 13 2016, to meet with the Syrian hierarchs. Among those present at the meeting was archpriest Mikhail Gundyaev, Russian Orthodox Church's representative to the World Council of Churches and international organizations in Geneva. The participants discussed prospects of inter-Christian cooperation aimed at supporting the needy Christians in the Middle East and other ethnic and ethno-confessional groups in the region.

Based on the materials of DECR Communication Service

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