From ONE Magazine

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

“Please make a pot of coffee, but very, very strong,” I asked my assistant a few weeks ago. Patriarch Raphael I Bidawid, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, was coming to visit.

The Patriarch is from Baghdad. In Iraq and throughout the Middle East, a visitor is always welcomed and offered hospitality. Usually this is expressed by a small cup of “Arabic” or “Turkish” coffee – a coffee that is aromatic, strong and thick.

A cup of coffee or tea, a biscuit or a sweet, even a cigarette to smoke, are indispensable accompaniments to any Middle Eastern visit. Another is the elaborately courteous and seemingly casual and random conversation, which often veils yet indirectly pursues a well-planned agenda.

A visit is an important part of life in the Middle East – in fact, in most parts of the world. It is a gesture of respect, an expression of concern for the interests of the one visited, and, above all else, an important medium of communication.

Over the years, besides visiting our offices and programs in the Middle East, I make a lot of other visits – to Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs and bishops, to other Christian leaders, to muftis and rabbis, even to civil authorities.

First visits frequently are somewhat stilted and guarded. The unspoken questions are, “What is the reason? Why is he here?” Gradually, as visits are repeated, motives become clearer and apprehensions grow less.

Visit by visit trust begins to be stitched together and the fabric of a relationship begins to grow.

For example at Christmas time, according to a well-orchestrated tradition in Beirut, Damascus and Jerusalem, each patriarch visits the other – for visits need to be reciprocated.

The visits are occasioned by the holy days, but they form part of the great knitting together of the churches, which is the work of the Holy Spirit in our day.

While in the United States, Patriarch Bidawid visited Mar Dinkha IV, Catholicos Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, to explore ways and means toward the union of the Church of the East.

Greek-Melkite Catholic Patriarch Maximos V Hakim and Greek Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim, through their holy synods, are committed to seeking the union of the Church of Antioch.

Through their many mutual visits, the patriarchs and other Christian leaders of Jerusalem have enough mutual confidence to meet and plan together regularly after centuries of separation.

Even the fragile fabric of peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and throughout the Middle East, depends on whether visits take place and, if so, the mutual respect they proclaim and the trust they build.

The angel visited Mary and Joseph. Mary visited Elizabeth. Jesus visited Levi and Zacchaeus. Nicodemus visited Jesus. The Holy Spirit often has visited you and me.

Praise be to the one God who knits us all together!

Msgr. Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA