The 27th Irish Inter–Church Meeting (IICM) took place over the 24th and 25th November at Mount St Anne’s Retreat Centre, Portarlington Co. Laois. The IICM is the formal meeting between the Irish Episcopal Conference and the Irish Council of Churches. It gathers senior church leaders and lay representatives from across 15 denominations in Ireland, bringing together the broad spectrum of Roman Catholic, Reformed, Migrant–led, Independent and Orthodox traditions. The theme chosen for the 2016 meeting was Forsaken? The suffering of the churches in the Middle East.
The following statement was issued by the Co–Chairs of the meeting after the event:
“The annual Inter–Church Meeting provides a space for Christian churches in Ireland to come together in prayer and reflection, strengthening our relationships as we discuss issues of shared concern. Meeting in 2016, against the backdrop of increasing fragmentation and hostility in international relations, foremost in our thoughts was the suffering of the persecuted Christians of the Middle East, whose very existence is under threat.
With contributions from representatives of the Christian population of the Middle East region and experts in international relations, development and humanitarian aid, we sought to discern what should be the appropriate responses of the Irish churches to this multifaceted crisis. As is reflected in the title ‘Forsaken?’ we approached this meeting with an uneasy conscience, concerned that we are not doing enough to demonstrate to our fellow Christians that they are not forgotten.
In the course of our reflections we were challenged, encouraged and inspired. We were challenged by the sheer scale of the suffering and the urgent need for a response from the international community, while recognising that the complexity of the problems do not lend themselves to obvious, externally–imposed solutions. We were encouraged to hear that our spiritual solidarity in prayer and pilgrimage means a great deal to those who are experiencing persecution, and that the work of Christian development organisations is helping those who have been displaced begin to rebuild their lives, in the hope of one day being able to return home. We were inspired and humbled by the courage of those who have risked everything to remain true to their faith. Their example gives us hope, when we might feel tempted towards resignation and despair.
The significance of the Middle East as a spiritual home for the three Abrahamic faiths, all with a long history there, underlines the tragedy of what is currently unfolding, with implications for the whole human family. Faith communities have a particular responsibility to counter the global tendency towards fragmentation with an emphasis on community, inclusion and shared values. Taking as our starting point our commitment to respect for the dignity of the human person, we need to be strong advocates for the protection of all vulnerable minorities.
Lasting peace and security for the region can only be achieved in the context of a renewed international commitment to solidarity, human rights and respect for diversity. As churches, we can play our part by keeping this issue on the agenda of our political leaders and ensuring that the victims of persecution are not forgotten, by making donations in support of the urgent humanitarian needs and by working to ensure that our society models the inclusive approach to minorities we would wish to see in the Middle East and throughout the world.”