France calls for Middle Eastern Christians not to be abandoned

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France calls for Middle Eastern Christians not to be abandoned

By Giorgio Bernardelli

On Tuesday, the new Consul General of France in Jerusalem, Hervé Magrot, made his official entrance to the Holy City, in keeping with a century-old tradition, according to which, the French Consul General is the only foreign diplomat who has the privilege of making an official visit to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. The solemn ceremony involved a procession from Jaffa Gate to the Basilica of St. Anne, is a historic tradition marking France’s role as “protector” of the Christians in the Holy Land.

 

Its origins lie in an agreement signed between the most Catholic among kings, Francis I and Suleiman the Magnificent in 1535 – the first of a series of Capitulations. The agreement, which was signed in the spirit of an alliance against Charles V, recognised France’s special role as protector of the Christians in the Holy Land. This role was further reinforced by the establishment of a French consulate in Jerusalem  under Louis XIII and by a number of interventions relating to the jurisdiction over the Holy Places and the protection of Christian minorities across the Middle East (for example in Lebanon). Jerusalem, more than any other place sees history as more than just a past memory and Mr. Magrot wished to make it immediately clear he was aware of this. In his welcome speech he stressed that the protection of Christians in the Middle East was something that was close to his heart: Indeed, local Christian communities have expressed a great deal of discontent over France’s stance in relation to the Syrian conflict. The fact that Paris supported Syria’s opposition forces was seen by most Middle Eastern Christians as a green light to Islamist militia. France was therefore seen to be failing in its duty to protect Christians, an age-long commitment which was even respected during the Revolution of 1789 and even survived the laicité of the 1905 French legislation on the separation of the Churches and the State.

 

This discontent comes just as another aspiring “protector” of Christians comes on the scene – as Vatican Insider reported some days ago -: Many Christians in the Middle East are beginning to see Putin’s Russia is being seen with an increasingly favourable eye. This is the context in which Mr. Magrot’s words about France not intending to duck out of a duty history has handed down to it.

 

“France, in this context, has always played a special role in its history and in the present. With its institutions and its traditions, France continues to keep alive and vibrant its relationship with this city … In a time when everything in the world seems to change, even here in the Middle East, this simple and ancient rite of welcoming a civil personality in a religious place, reminds us of the contribution that all together, each for their own part, we must give to continue to preserve the unique character of the Holy City, respecting the different religious identities that compose it and building with ever greater determination occasions of encounter and friendship.” Naturally, only time will tell whether these words will be acted upon. The decisions France takes in relation to the Syrian conflict will be an important litmus test. But the Consul’s words are also indicative of the fear Russian expansionism is beginning to trigger among Western governments, in the context of the big Middle Eastern card shuffling. The issue of guarantees for Christians in the Muslim world is coming to the fore once again. For a long time now guarantees for Christians have been sacrificed in the name of other interests. 

Tue, 11/26/2013 - 17:00
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