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Greetings to the 9th General Assembly of the Middle East Council of Churches

Tuesday 27th November 2007

A message of support from the Archbishop for delegates attending the General Assembly of MECC in Paphos, Cyprus.

Grace and peace be with you in the name of our Lord.

The great pleasure I have in being privileged to greet you on this important occasion is tempered by a certain sorrow at not being able to share in the fellowship of your gathering. I give thanks to God for the generous hospitality and Christian love I have experienced during my visits to many of you in your countries and for the opportunity to learn more of the churches you lead and represent. There can be no substitute for seeing at first hand the tremendously significant work and witness you undertake. In return, it has been a privilege to welcome some of you, and representatives of many more, to England at Lambeth Palace or Canterbury.

I should like to pay particular tribute to your Secretary General, Guirgis Saleh, and the team in Lebanon and Syria that support the MECC's work. In September they arranged an impressive programme for me, and for my brother bishops who spent longer in each country. Without their tireless dedication and their range of contacts across the religious communities our all too brief (and very full!) visit would not have been so enriching an experience.

In addition to Damascus and Beirut, I have also visited Jerusalem within the last two months. Conversations and engagements in all three places have served to reinforce my conviction of the central role that we, as Christian leaders, must play in working for peace and a stable future for the region alongside the leaders of other religious traditions. I have been heartened by the response of the churches to the challenges the political and social developments in the region since the last Assembly have posed. Where peace and freedom are challenged or where love and understanding are subverted our voice must be raised to proclaim the gospel vision, "speaking for Christ, as though God himself were making his appeal through us". The credibility and impact of this appeal, and the example it gives to political authorities, is greatly enhanced when the Christian voice is heard alongside that of other religions. The patient work and shared experience that makes such a joint witness possible seems a particular vocation of Christians in the Middle East. We are committed to support you in this endeavour and all your efforts to promote peace and reconciliation.

As shepherds we have a particular responsibility in this peace-building work, but it is work in which the whole flock participates. I have therefore been particularly concerned at reports of the decline in the proportion of Christians in the region and the displacement of ancient and established communities. The effects of this tragic situation, about which I have spoken here in the UK as well as in the region on several occasions, are felt not only in the individual lives so deeply affected but also in the threat to some of the core values that underpin healthy societies. Not only will individual nations in the Middle and Near East be immeasurably poorer should they lose viable Christian communities, but the wider international community is likely to suffer as a consequence too.

In this field, as in others, I am proud of the contribution made by the Anglican church in the region and look forward to a future of even deeper collaboration with ecumenical partners and the work of the Council. This year has been one of change in the leadership of our Episcopal Church of Jerusalem & the Middle East with our brother Mouneer assuming his responsibilities as her President Bishop. I am grateful for the hand of friendship extended to him and to the new bishops in the dioceses of Jerusalem, Bishop Suhail Dawani, of Iran, Bishop Azad Marshall and of Cyprus & the Gulf, Bishop Michael Lewis, as well as to the two assistant bishops in Cairo, Bishop Derek Eaton, and in the Horn of Africa, Bishop Andrew Proud. I know that they are committed, as am I, to the building up of the Church's faith, witness and work in the region and I have great confidence in the leadership of our active and growing Anglican province.

Brothers and sisters, I assure you that you and your witness in the region will remain constantly in my prayers and ask that I might be in yours. May the Holy Spirit guide and enrich your time together this week and strengthen you to speak for Christ.

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