Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops October 2010
Papal Homily for Mideast Synod Inauguration
"The Life of Communion Is Truly the Great Witness"
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 10, 2010 - Here is a Vatican translation of the homily given today by Benedict XVI at a Mass for the inauguration of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, which will take place through Oct. 24.
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Illustrious Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
The Eucharistic celebration, the rendering of thanks to God par excellence, is marked for us today, gathered around the Tomb of Saint Peter, by an extraordinary reason: the grace of seeing gathered together for the first time at a Synod, around the Bishop of Rome and the Universal Shepherd, the bishops of the Middle Eastern region. Such a singular event demonstrates the interest of the whole Church for that precious and beloved part of God's people who live in the Holy Land and the whole of the Middle East.
Above all, we give thanks to the Lord of history, because he has allowed, despite the often difficult and tormented events, the Middle East to see, from the time of Jesus all the way up to today, a continuity in the presence of Christians. In those lands, the one Church of Christ is expressed in the variety of liturgical, spiritual, cultural and teaching traditions of the six Venerable Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris, as well as in the Latin tradition. This fraternal greeting which I direct with great affection to the Patriarchs of each of these wishes to be extended at this time to all the faithful entrusted to their pastoral care in their respective countries as well as in the Diaspora. On this Sunday, the 28th of Ordinary Time, the Word of God offers a theme for meditation which brings us closer in a meaningful way to the event of the Synod that we open today. Continued reading of the Gospel of Luke leads us to the story of the healing of the ten lepers, of whom only one, a Samaritan, turns back to thank Jesus. Connected with this text, the first reading, from the Second Book of Kings, tells the story of the healing of Naaman, head of the Aramaean army, another leper, who was cured by immersing himself seven times in the waters of the Jordan River, on the orders of the prophet Eliseus. Naaman too returns to the prophet and, recognizing him as the mediator of God, professes his faith in the one Lord. So two lepers, two non-Jews, who are cured because they believe in the word of God's messenger. Their bodies are healed, but they are open to faith, and this heals their souls, that is, it saves them.
The Responsorial Psalm sings of this reality: "Yahweh has made known his saving power,/ revealed his saving justice for the nations to see. /Mindful of his faithful love and his constancy to the House of Israel" (Ps 98:2-3). This then is the theme: salvation is universal, but it passes through a specific historical mediation: the mediation of the people of Israel, which goes on to become that of Jesus Christ and the Church. The door of life is open for everyone, but this is the point, it is a "door", that is a definite and necessary passage. This is summed up in the Pauline formula we heard in the Second Letter to Timothy: "the salvation that is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim 2:10). It is the mystery of the universality of Salvation and at the same time of its necessary link with the historical mediation of Christ Jesus, preceded by that of the people of Israel and continued by that of the Church. God is love and wants all men to be part of His life; to carry out this plan He, who is One and Trine, creates in the world a mystery of a communion that is human and divine, historical and transcendent: He creates it with the "method" - so to speak - of the covenant, tying himself to men with faithful and inexhaustible love, forming a holy people, that becomes a blessing for all the families of the earth (cf Gen 12:13). Thus He reveals Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (cf Ex 3:6), who wants to lead his people to the "land" of freedom and peace. This "land" is not of this world; the whole of the divine plan goes beyond history, but the Lord wants to build it with men, for men and in men, beginning with the coordinates of space and time in which they live and which He Himself gave them.
With its own specificity, that which we call the "Middle East", makes up part of those coordinates. God sees this region of the world, too, from a different perspective, one might say, "from on high": it is the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the land of the Exodus and the return from exile; the land of the Temple and of the Prophets, the land in which the Only Begotten Son of Mary was born, lived, died, and rose from the dead; the cradle of the Church, established in order to carry Christ's Gospel to the ends of the earth. And we too, as believers, look at the Middle East with this view, from the perspective of the history of salvation. It is this internal point of view which guided me during Apostolic visits to Turkey, the Holy Land-Jordan, Israel, Palestine-and Cyprus, where I was able to experience firsthand the joys and concerns of the Christian communities. It was for this reason, too, that I willingly accepted the proposal of the Patriarchs and Bishops to convoke a Synodal Assembly to reflect together, in light of Sacred Scripture and Church traditions, on the present as well as the future of the faithful and populations of the Middle East.
Looking at that part of the world from God's perspective means recognizing in it the "cradle" of a universal design of salvation in love, a mystery of communion which becomes true in freedom and thus asks man for a response. Abraham, the prophets, and the Virgin Mary are the protagonists of this response which, however, has its completion in Jesus Christ, son of that same land, yet descended from Heaven. From Him, from his Heart and his Spirit was born the Church, which is a pilgrim in this world, yet belongs to Him. The Church was established to be a sign and an instrument of the unique and universal saving project of God among men; She fulfils this mission simply by being herself, that is, "Communion and witness", as it says in the theme of this Synodal Assembly which opens today, referring to Luke's famous definition of the first Christian community: "The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul" (Acts 4:32). Without communion there can be no witness: the life of communion is truly the great witness. Jesus said it clearly: "It is by your love for one another, that everyone will recognize you as my disciples" (Jn 13:35). This communion is the same life of God which is communicated in the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ. It is thus a gift, not something which we ourselves must build through our own efforts. And it is precisely because of this that it calls upon our freedom and waits for our response: communion always requires conversion, just as a gift is better if it is welcomed and utilized. In Jerusalem the first Christians were few. Nobody could have imagined what was going to take place. And the Church continues to live on that same strength which enabled it to begin and to grow. Pentecost is the original event but also a permanent dynamism, and the Synod of Bishops is a privileged moment in which the grace of Pentecost may be renewed in the Church's journey, so that the Good News may be announced openly and heard by all peoples.
Therefore, the reason for this synodal assembly is mainly a pastoral one. While not being able to ignore the delicate and at times dramatic social and political situation of some countries, the Pastors of the Middle Eastern Churches wish to concentrate on the aspects of their own mission. As regards this, the Instrumentum laboris, elaborated by a Presynodal Council whose members we thank for their work, underlined these ecclesial finalities of the Assembly, pointing out that, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it wishes to re-enliven communion of the Catholic Church in the Middle East. First of all within each Church, between all its members: Patriarch, Bishop, priests, religious persons, persons of consecrated life and the laity. And, thereby, in the relationships with the other Churches. Ecclesial life, corroborated in this way, will see the development of very positive fruits in the ecumenical path with the other Churches and ecclesial Communities present in the Middle East. This occasion is also propitious to constructively continue the dialogue with Jews, to whom we are tied by an indissoluble bond, the lengthy history of the Covenant, as we are with the Muslims. Also, the workings of the Synodal assembly are oriented to the witness of Christians on a personal, family and social level. This requires the reinforcing of their Christian identity through the Word of God and the Sacraments. We all hope that the faithful feel the joy in living in the Holy Land, a land blessed by the presence and by the Paschal Mystery of the Lord Jesus Christ. Over the centuries those Places attracted multitudes of pilgrims and even men and women in religious communities, who have considered it a great privilege to be able to live and bear witness in the land of Jesus. Despite the difficulties, the Christians in the Holy Land are called to enliven their consciousness of being the living stones of the Church in the Middle East, at the holy Places of our salvation. However, living in a dignified manner in one's own country is above all a fundamental human right: therefore, the conditions of peace and justice, which are necessary for the harmonious development of all those living in the region, should be promoted. Therefore all are called to give their personal contribution: the international community, by supporting a stable path, loyal and constructive, towards peace; those most prevalent religions in the region, in promoting the spiritual and cultural values that unite men and exclude any expression of violence. Christians will continue to contribute not only with the work of social promotion, such as institutes of education and health, but above all with the spirit of the Evangelical Beatitudes, which enliven the practice of forgiveness and reconciliation. In this commitment, they will always have the support of the entire Church, as is solemnly attested by the presence here of the Delegates of the Episcopacies of other continents.
Dear friends, let us entrust the workings of the Synodal Assembly for the Middle East to the many Saints of that blessed land; let us invoke upon it the constant protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so that the coming days of prayer, of reflection and of fraternal communion may be the harbingers of the good fruits for the present and for the future of the beloved Middle Eastern populations. To them we address a hopeful greeting with all our heart: "Peace to you, peace to your family, peace to all that is yours!" (1 Sam 25:6).
© Copyright 2010 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
Pope's Reflection on Day 1 of Mideast Synod
"True Wisdom of Simple Faith ... Is the Force of the Church"
ROME, OCT. 11, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is the reflection offered today by Benedict XVI at the opening of the first general congregation of the Special Assembly for the Middle East for the Middle East.
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Dear brothers and sisters,
On October 11 1962, 48 years ago, Pope John XXIII inaugurated Vatican Council II. At the time, on October 11, the feast day of the Divine Motherhood of Mary was celebrated and, with this gesture, with this date, Pope John wished to entrust the whole Council into the motherly hands and maternal heart of the Madonna. We too begin on October 11th, we too wish to entrust this Synod, with all its problems, with all its challenges, with all its hopes, to the maternal heart of the Madonna, the Mother of God.
Pius XI, in 1930, introduced this feast day, 1600 years after the Council of Ephesus, which had legitimated, for Mary, the title of Theotokos, Dei Genitrix. With this great word Dei Genitrix, Theotokos, the Council of Ephesus had summarized the entire doctrine of Christ, of Mary, the whole of the doctrine of redemption. So it would be worthwhile to reflect briefly, for a moment, on what was said during the Council of Ephesus, on what this day means.
In reality, Theotokos is a courageous title. A woman is the Mother of God. One could say: how is this possible? God is eternal, he is the Creator. We are creatures, we are in time: how could a human being be the Mother of God, of the Eternal, since we are all in time, we are all creatures? Therefore one can understand that there was some strong opposition, in part, to this term. The Nestorians used to say: one can speak about Christotokos, yes, but Theotokos no: Theos, God, is beyond, beyond the events of history. But the Council decided this, and thus it enlightened the adventure of God, the greatness of what he has done for us. God did not remain in Himself: he went out, He united in such a way, so radically to this man, Jesus, that this man Jesus is God, and if we speak about Him, we can also speak about God. Not only was a man born that had something to do with God, but in Him was born God on earth. God came from himself. But we could also say the opposite: God drew us to Himself, so that we are not outside of God, but we are within the intimate, the intimacy of God Himself.
Aristotelian philosophy, as we well know, tells us that between God and man there is only an unreciprocated relationship. Man refers to God, but God, the Eternal, is in Himself, He does not change: He cannot have this relation today and another relationship tomorrow. He is within Himself, He does not have ad extra relations. It is a very logical term, but it is also a word that makes us despair: so God has no relationship with me. With the incarnation, with the event of the Theotokos, this has been radically changed, because God drew us into Himself and God in Himself is the relationship and allows us to participate in His interior relationship. Thus we are in His being Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are within His being in relationship, we are in relationship with Him and He truly created the relationship with us. At that moment, God wished to be born from woman and remain Himself: this is the great event. And thus we can understand the depth of the act by Pope John, who entrusted the Council, Synodal Assembly to the central mystery, to the Mother of God who is drawn by the Lord into Himself, and thus all of us with Her.
The Council began with the icon of the Theotokos. At the end, Pope Paul VI recognized the same title of Mater Ecclesiae to the Madonna. And these two icons, which begin and end the Council, are intrinsically linked, and are, in the end, one single icon. Because Christ was not born like any other individual. He was born to create a body for Himself: He was born - as John says in Chapter 12 of his Gospel - to attract all to Him and in Him. He was born - as it says in the Letters to the Colossians and to the Ephesians - to summarize the whole world, He was born as the firstborn of many brothers, He was born to unite the cosmos in Him, so that He is the Head of a great Body. Where Christ is born, the movement of summation begins, the moment of the calling begins, of construction of his Body, of the Holy Church. The Mother of Theos, the Mother of God, is the Mother of the Church, because she is the Mother of He who came to unite all in His resurrected Body.
Saint Luke leads us to understand this in the parallel between the first chapter of his book and the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, which repeat the same mystery on two different levels. In the first chapter of the Gospel the Holy Spirit comes upon Mary and thus she gives birth to and gives us the Son of God. In the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, Mary is at the center of Jesus' disciples who are praying all together, pleading with the cloud of the Holy Spirit. And thus from the believing Church, with Mary at its heart, is born the Church, the Body of Christ. This dual birth is the only birth of the Christus totus, of the Christ who embraces the world and all of us.
Birth in Bethlehem, birth at the Last Supper. Birth of the Infant Jesus, birth of the Body of Christ, of the Church. These are two events or just one event. But between the two lie truly the Cross and the Resurrection. And only through the Cross comes the path towards the totality of Christ, towards His resurrected Body, towards the universalization of His being in the unity of the Church. And thus, bearing in mind that only from the wheat fallen to earth can a great harvest be reaped, from the Lord pierced on the Cross comes the universality of His disciples reunited in this His Body, dead and risen.
Keeping this connection between Theotokos and Mater ecclesiae in mind, we turn our attention to the last book of the Holy Scripture, Revelation, where, in chapter 12, we can find this synthesis. The woman clothed with thesun, with twelve stars over her head and the moon at her feet, gives birth. And gives birth with a cry of pain, gives birth with great suffering. Here the Marian mystery is the mystery of Bethlehem extended to the cosmic mystery. Christ is always reborn in all generations and thus takes on, gathers humanity within Himself. And this cosmic birth is achieved in the cry of the Cross, in the suffering of the Passion. And the blood of martyrs belongs to this cry of the Cross.
So, at this moment, we can look at the second psalm of this Hour, Psalm 81, where we can see part of this process. God is among gods - they are still considered as gods in Israel. In this Psalm, in a great concentration, in a prophetic vision, we can see the power taken from the gods. Those who seemed to be gods are not gods and lose their divine characteristics, and fall to earth. Dii estis et moriemini sicut nomine (cf. Psa 81:6-7): the wresting of power, the fall of the divinities.
This process that is achieved along the path of faith of Israel, and which here is summarized in one vision, is the true process of the history of religion: the fall of the gods. And thus the transformation of the world, the knowledge of the true God, the loss of power by the forces that dominate the world, is a process of suffering. In the history of Israel we can see how this liberation from polytheism, this recognition - "Only He is God" - is achieved with great pain, beginning with the path of Abraham, the exile, the Maccabeans, up to Christ. And this process of loss of power continues throughout history, spoken of in Revelation chapter 12; it mentions the fall of the angels, which are not truly angels, they are not divinities on earth. And is achieved truly, right at the time of the rising Church, where we can see how the blood of the martyrs takes the power away from the divinities, starting with the divine emperor, from all these divinities. It is the blood of the martyrs, the suffering, the cry of the Mother Church that makes them fall and thus transforms the world.
This fall is not only the knowledge that they are not God; it is the process of transformation of the world, which costs blood, costs the suffering of the witnesses of Christ. And, if we look closely, we can see that this process never ends. It is achieved in various periods of history in ever new ways; even today, at this moment, in which Christ, the only Son of God, must be born for the world with the fall of the gods, with pain, the martyrdom of witnesses. Let us remember all the great powers of today's history, let us remember the anonymous capital that enslaves man, which is no longer in man's possession, but is an anonymous power served by men, by which men are tormented and even killed. It is a destructive power, that threatens the world. And then the power of the terroristic ideologies. Violent acts are apparently made in the name of God, but this is not God: they are false divinities that must be unmasked; they are not God. And then drugs, this power that, like a voracious beast, extends its claws to all parts of the world and destroys it: it is a divinity, but it is a false divinity that must fall. Or even the way of living proclaimed by public opinion: today we must do things like this, marriage no longer counts, chastity is no longer a virtue, and so on.
These ideologies that dominate, that impose themselves forcefully, are divinities. And in the pain of the Saints, in the suffering of believers, of the Mother Church which we are a part of, these divinities must fall, what is said in the Letters to the Colossians and to the Ephesians must be done: the dominations, the powers fall and become subjects of the one Lord Jesus Christ. On this battle we find ourselves in, of this taking power away from God, of this fall of false gods, that fall because they are not deities, but powers that can destroy the world, chapter 12 of Revelations mentions these, even if with a mysterious image, for which, I believe, there are many different and beautiful interpretations. It has been said that the dragon places a large river of water before the fleeing woman to overcome her. And it would seem inevitable that the woman will drown in this river. But the good earth absorbs this river and it cannot be harmful. I think that the river is easily interpreted: these are the currents that dominate all and wish to make faith in the Church disappear, the Church that does not have a place anymore in front of the force of these currents that impose themselves as the only rationality, as the only way to live. And the earth that absorbs these currents is the faith of the simple at heart, that does not allow itself to be overcome by these rivers and saves the Mother and saves the Son. This is why the Psalm says - the first psalm of the Hour - the faith of the simple at heart is the true wisdom (cf Psa. 118:130). This true wisdom of simple faith, that does not allow itself to be swamped by the waters, is the force of the Church. And we have returned to the Marian mystery.
And there is also a final word in Psalm 81, "movebuntur omnia fundamenta terrae" (Psa 81:5), the foundations of earth are shaken. We see this today, with the climatic problems, how the foundations of the earth are shaken, how they are threatened by our behavior. The external foundations are shaken because the internal foundations are shaken, the moral and religious foundations, the faith that follows the right way of living. And we know that faith is the foundation, and, undoubtedly, the foundations of the earth cannot be shaken if they remain close to the faith, to true wisdom.
And then the Psalm says: "Arise, God, judge the world" (Psa 81:8). Thus we also say to the Lord: "Arise at this moment, take the world in your hands, protect your Church, protect humanity, protect the earth". And we once again entrust ourselves to the Mother of God, to Mary, and pray: "You, the great believer, you who have opened the earth to the heavens, help us, open the doors today as well, that truth might win, the will of God, which is the true good, the true salvation of the world". Amen
© Copyright 2010 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
Address of Archbishop Eterovic' to Mideast Synod
"The Holy Land Is Dear to All Christians"
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 11, 2010 - Here is an excerpt of the Vatican translation of the report of the secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic', given today on the first day of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East.
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Your Eminences and Excellencies,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
“Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Gen 12:1, 2). Abram, born in Ur of the Chaldeans, heard these words addressed to him by God in Haran. He passed through the region and dwelt near the Oak of Moreh (cf. Gen 12:6). He then set up camp in Negeb (cf. Gen 12:9), went down into Egypt (cf. Gen 12:10-20), returned to Negeb, went to Bethel (cf. Gen 13:1, 2) and then to the land of Canaan (cf. Gen 12:12), where he came and dwelt at the Oaks of Mamre, in Hebron (cf. Gen 13:18). God made a covenant with his servant Abram, who became Abraham, because he was given a special mission: “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations” (Gen 17: 4, 5). Knowing the faith and justice of Abram (cf. Gen 15:6), God made him a threefold promise: a son, a people beyond counting and a land. The oath of the God of Israel will never fail, as St. Paul attests (cf. Rm 9:1-11:36).
“I am who am!” (Ex 3:14), are the holy words of the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who appeared on Mount Horeb in the burning bush which burnt but was not consumed. They were addressed to Moses to reveal his holy name and entrust Moses with the mission of freeing his people from slavery in Egypt: “I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings [...]. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt” (Ex 3:7-10). Strengthened by the grace of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses surmounted numerous difficulties and guided the Hebrew people through the Red Sea and the desert to the Promised Land, which he could only view from “Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, opposite Jericho” (Dt 32:49), where he died and was buried “opposite Beth-pe'or” (Dt 34:6). God established, through his friend Moses (cf. Ex 33:11), a covenant with the Chosen People on Mount Sinai. If the people will hear the voice of Yahweh and observe his law, they will be for him “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:6). God entrusted the Chosen People with “Ten Words”, the Ten Commandments, which were the terms and basis for the covenant (cf. Ex 20-24).
“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (Jn 8:58). In his discussion with the Jews in the temple of Jerusalem, Jesus alluded to the divine name revealed to Moses (cf. Ex 33:14), implicitly declaring himself to be God, born in Bethlehem to save humanity (cf. Lk 1:4-14). “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad" (Jn 8:56). Jesus Christ, “Son of David, Son of Abraham” (Mt 1:1), also applies to himself the expression “Day of the Lord”, which was reserved in the Old Testament for God alone, thereby designating himself as the true object of the promise made to Abraham and the joy he experiences in the birth of his son, Isaac (cf. Gen 12:1-3).
After 30 years of his hidden life in Nazareth, Jesus, as he preached throughout Galilea (cf. Mt 4:23) and travelled “all the cities and villages” (Mt 9:35), had also to indicate his relation to the great prophet, Moses. At the beginning of his public life, as he walked along the lake of Tiberias, he called disciples who were convinced that they found “him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph" (Jn 1:45). Their conviction was confirmed on Mount Tabor, when “two men talked with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Lk 9:30,31). In his discussion with his fellow-Jews in the Temple of Jerusalem, Jesus again refers to the testimony of Moses: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me” (Jn 5:46). John the Evangelist summarises in the following words the contribution of both in salvation history: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn 1:17).
These brief citations from the Old and New Testaments show the importance of the geographic area of the Middle East for all Christians, especially those who actually live in the Holy Land, the land which Jesus sanctified with his birth in Bethlehem, his flight into Egypt, his hidden life in Nazareth and his preaching in Galilee, Samaria and Judea, which was accompanied by signs and wonders, primarily his passion, death and resurrection in the holy city of Jerusalem. The events from salvation history, which took place in the Middle East, continue to be vividly remembered in the hearts of the inhabitants of the region, particularly Christians. In them, Bible peoples can be said to continue today. As a result, the events that took place centuries ago remain alive not only through the power of the Word of God, which is always alive and effective (cf. Heb 4:12), but also through these peoples’ vital link to this land, which was sanctified by the special presence of God, who revealed himself in the fullness of time (cf. Heb 9:26) in his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. If these “peoples of the Bible” exist today, so too “bishops of the Bible”, i.e., in reference to the places where they exercise their pastoral activity. There are many such Pastors in this synodal assembly which gathers all the ordinaries of the 101 ecclesiastical jurisdictions of the Middle East, whom I greet in a special way. We add to these Pastors the 23 ordinaries from the Diaspora, who through their pastoral care nurture the faith of those who have emigrated from the Middle East to various parts of the world.
In a certain way, all bishops are “bishops of the Bible”. In addition to the bishops from the geographic locations mentioned in the Bible, there are also “bishops of biblical communion”. The presence of representatives from all 5 continents clearly shows the interest of the entire Christian world in the Catholic Church on pilgrimage in the Middle East. We further add to this group 19 bishops from neighbouring countries or those particularly involved in the spiritual and material assistance of their brothers and sisters in the Holy Land.
[Translated version received from the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops]
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Mideast Synod's Report Before the Discussion
"The Church of the Apostles Has Always Been the Model for the Church"
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 11, 2010 - Here is an excerpt of the Vatican translation of the Report Before the Discussion delivered today at the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops by the general reporter, Patriarch Antonios Naguib of Alexandria of the Catholic Coptic Church.
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Most Holy Father,
Your Eminences, Beatitudes and Excellencies,
Fraternal Delegates of the Sister Churches and Ecclesial Communities,
Dear Experts and Invited Guests,
First of all, I would like to express my deep gratitude to His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI for having appointed me as General Rapporteur of this Special Assembly for the Middle East. This is the first time I have taken on such an awesome task. I will try to carry it out to the best of my ability, relying on the Lord’s assistance and your understanding.
Saint Luke reports in the Acts of the Apostles that Jesus, before taking leave of his apostles, gave them these instructions: «You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth» (Acts 1:8).
The Apostles, after having received the Holy Spirit, undertook their mission and began fearlessly to announce the Good News of the Lord’s life, death and resurrection (cf. Acts 2:32). Peter’s first proclamation resulted in the conversion and Baptism of approximately three thousand persons and many others after them, all of whom were radically transformed: «Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common» (Acts 4:32).
These happenings at the Church’s origin inspired the topic and the goal of our Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops: communion and witness — both communal and personal — flowing from a life grounded in Christ and animated by the Holy Spirit. Over the centuries, the example of the Church of the Apostles has always been the model for the Church in every age. Our Synodal Assembly aims at offering us assistance in returning to this ideal, in helping us examine our lives so as to give them a renewed energy and vitality which will purify, regenerate and invigorate us.
The Holy Father personally consigned to us the Instrumentum laboris of this Special Assembly, during his Apostolic Visit to Cyprus, a gesture which showed his particular concern for our Churches. Yesterday morning’s Solemn Eucharistic Concelebration, at which His Holiness was the principal celebrant, is the best guarantee of God’s blessing on this Assembly. Assured of this heavenly assistance and relying on the help and guidance of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we confidently approach our task.
All of us received the announcement of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops with great joy, enthusiasm, gratitude and fervor. The Holy Father’s decision was seen as his fatherly acceptance of a proposal which was of particular concern to us and a demonstration of his special care for our Churches as Bishop of Rome and as the Supreme Shepherd of the Catholic Church. We have already witnessed his special consideration on various occasions and frequently during his homilies and discourses. We experienced it in a particular manner, during his Apostolic Visits to Turkey (2006), to Jordan, Israel and Palestine (2009) and most recently to Cyprus (2010). However, the actual presence of the Holy Father in our midst, during these proceedings, brings the love, solidarity, prayer and support of the Successor of Peter, the Holy See and the entire Church.
As soon as the Holy Father announced the event on 19 September 2009, the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops worked with the Pre-Synodal Council for the Middle East to prepare the Lineamenta, and, subsequently, the Instrumentum laboris. For the most part, these documents find their basis in Sacred Scripture, with references to the documents of Vatican Council II, the Codes of Canons of the Eastern Churches and the Code of Canon Law. Particular consideration was given to the 10 Pastoral Letters of the Council of Patriarchs of the Middle East. I believe that the work was well done, despite the limited time available in preparation.
I feel it would be useful to propose the following topics in the Instrumentum laboris for more detailed treatment in the course of our work.
A. The Goal of the Synod (nn. 3 - 6)
The twofold aim of the Synod was well received and appreciated in our Catholic Churches, namely:
1) to confirm and strengthen the Church’s members in their Christian identity, through the Word of God and the sacraments; and
2) to foster ecclesial communion between the Churches sui iuris, so that they may offer an authentic and effective witness. Essential elements in this witness in our lives are ecumenism, inter-religious dialogue and the missionary effort.
The Instrumentum laboris insists on the need and importance that the synod fathers give our Christian people reasons for their presence in our countries and confirm them in their mission of being, and continuing to be, authentic witnesses of the Risen Christ, in every aspect of their lives. Amidst oftentimes very difficult yet promising circumstances in life, they are a visible icon of Christ, the “flesh and blood” incarnation of his Church and the present-day instrument of the Holy Spirit’s activity.
B. A Reflection Guided by Holy Scripture (nn. 7 - 12)
We are proud to come from lands where men, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote the Holy Books in some of our native languages. This, however, makes demands on us. Holy Scripture must be the soul of our religious life and witness, both as individuals and communities. The Holy Liturgy is the centre and summit of our ecclesial life, where we celebrate and listen regularly to the Word of God. In our reading, praying and meditating upon the Holy Bible, whether as a Church, in small groups or individually, we must look for and find the answers to the meaning of our presence in our countries, our communion and our witness, taking into consideration our surroundings and the present-day challenges of new situations.
The Instrumentum laboris draws attention to an insufficient response to the great thirst of our faithful for the Word of God, its understanding and its assimilation in their hearts and lives. In this regard, appropriate initiatives need to be considered, undertaken, encouraged and supported, particularly through utilising the modern media which are available today. Individuals, who, in virtue of their vocation, are more directly in contact with the Word of God, have a special responsibility to witness and intercede for the People of God. Memorisation of biblical texts is always beneficial and fruitful.
«Salvation history» needs to be highlighted in the exegesis and interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures, which reveal the unique, divine plan, unfolding over the ages and intimately bound to both the Old and the New Testament, a plan which finds its center and summit in Jesus Christ. Inasmuch as the Bible is the Book of the Christian community, the biblical text can only be correctly interpreted within the Church.
Therefore, the Church’s tradition and teaching, especially in our Eastern countries, are the indisputable reference-point for understanding and interpreting the Bible.
The Word of God is the source of theology, morality and apostolic and missionary spirituality and vitality. The Word sheds light on life’s happenings, thereby transforming, guiding and giving them meaning. Some unthinking or bad-intentioned persons use the Bible as a “recipe book” or a basis for superstitious practices. We have the responsibility to educate our faithful not to give credence to such people. The Word of God also shed’s light on communities and personal choices in life, providing responses to the challenges of life, inspiration to ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue and the manner of dutifully approaching political life. The Word of God, therefore, needs to be the reference-point for Christians in education and witness, so as to indicate to people of good the path which leads to the God for whom they are searching.
[Translated version received from the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops]
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Cardinal Sandri's Greeting at Mideast Synod
"Here in Rome, We Carry the East in Our Hearts"
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 11 - Here is the greeting given today by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, at the first general congregation of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, presided over by Benedict XVI.
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Most Holy Father,
We give thanks to God, together with Your Holiness, for the communion with the Successor of Peter, which makes us feel like the Church of Christ, eternally loved by him. Through his holy people, he loves humanity and wants to present himself, as the Lord of history, even today. We render thanks for this expression of episcopal collegiate fraternity for the benefit of the Church in the Middle East.
With You, Holy Father, we trust in the mercy of God and ask that His kingdom of truth, love and justice arrive to the East and the West soon.
Nothing will separate us from the love of Christ (Rom 8:35): this is the confirmation we receive these days, while we are always listening "to what the Spirit is saying to the churches" (Rev 2:11) and to what Your Holiness confided to the Christians of the Middle East.
Now, here in Rome, we carry the East in our hearts, the precious treasures of its spiritual traditions: the glory and worth, as well as the trials of its past; the suffering and expectations for the present and the future. A "precious tie" unites all the eras of the Eastern Church: this is the Christian martyr.
Even today this demonstrates a faithfulness to the Gospel, which has written indelible pages of ecumenical brotherhood. While seeing some improvement in the situation, in some contexts the Catholics along with other Christians still endure hostility, persecution and the lack of respect for the fundamental right of religious freedom. Terrorism and other forms of violence do not even spare our Jewish and Muslim brothers. Humanly shameful events multiply and strike innocent victims. The loss of individuals and goods, and of reasonable perspectives, generates the reality of emigration, which is sad and unfortunately persists beyond some positive exceptions. Distress often flourishes giving rise to the crucial question of whether there ever can be days of peace and prosperity in the Middle East or if in the future the same survival of the "plebs sancta Dei" is not at risk.
You, Holy Father, have never lost hope. Rather, you instill it in the Churches of the East because they live the mystery evoked by the Prophet Ezekiel, the "glory of Yahweh" which "arrived at the Temple by the east gate" (Ez 43:4).
The East answers by persevering in communion and in witness; answering with the firm will to offer and receive the hope of the Cross.
During the Synodal supper "sub umbra Petri" the sons and daughters of the Eastern Churches wish to join with their pastors: they wish to be "one heart and soul" (Acts 4:32) and make theirs the priestly prayer of Christ "ut unum sint" (Jn 17:21). The East confirms its mission before Your Holiness, the mission of cooperating in the unity of all Christians especially the Eastern ones according to the mandate of the Ecumenical Vatican Council II (cf. OE 24).
Today, October 11th, is the liturgical memorial to the blessed John XXIII. To the beloved Pontiff, "sincere friend of the East," we entrust the prayer for the synodal work.
We see the same love in you, Holy Father. Therefore, I vouch for the faithfulness and complete adhesion to Your Person and to Your Magisterium by the faithful of the Middle East, while in the name of the Delegate Presidents, the General Relator, the General and Special Secretaries and all the participants I express our deepest gratitude to Your Holiness.
May the intercession of the Most Holy Mother of God bear abundant fruit for this providential initiative for the good of the Church in the hope of peace for the Middle East and for the world.
Thank you, Holy Father.
Rabbi Rosen's Address to Mideast Synod
Jewish-Catholic Relations "a Blessed Transformation in Our Times"
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 13, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is the full text of the address given today at the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops by special guest Rabbi David Rosen, advisor to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and director of the Department for Interreligious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee and Heilbrunn Institute for International and Interreligious Understanding.
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The relationship today between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people is a blessed transformation in our times -- arguably without historic parallel.
In his words in the great synagogue here in Rome last January, H.H. Pope Benedict XVI referred to the teaching of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council as "a clear landmark to which constant reference is made in our attitude and our relations with the Jewish people, marking a new and significant stage."
Naturally this striking transformation in the way the Jewish people is viewed and presented , still had and has to contend with the influence of centuries, if not millenia, of the "teaching of contempt" towards Jews and Judaism, which obviously is not eliminated overnight nor even over forty five years. Inevitably, the impact of this transformation in Catholic-Jewish relations varies considerably from one context to another, influenced by sociological, educational and even political factors. Arguably the most dramatic internalization has taken place in the United States of America where Jews and Christians live in an open society side by side as vibrant self-confident and civically engaged minorities. As a result the relationship has advanced there to a unique degree involving cooperation and exchanges between the communities and their educational institutions; and today the US boasts literally dozens of academic institutions for Catholic-Jewish studies and relations, while there are perhaps three in the rest of the world.
Indeed there is a widespread perception among the Jewish communities in the US of the Catholic Church as a genuine friend with profound values and interests in common. It is my privilege to head the international interfaith representation of the American Jewish Committee, which has been and continues to be the leading Jewish organization in this remarkable and historic transformation.
However, there are many countries where such social and demographic factors are not present. In most countries where Catholicism is the dominant social force, Jewish communities are small if present at all, and the relationship between the Church and Judaism often gets little notice. I confess to having been surprised to find Catholic clergy and sometimes even hierarchy from some countries not only ignorant about contemporary Judaism but often even about Nostra Aetate itself, the Vatican documents that flowed from it and thus the relevant teachings of the Magisterium concerning Jews and Judaism.
While as indicated, Jewish experience in the US has done much to alleviate negative impressions of the tragic past; there is still widespread ignorance about Christianity in the Jewish world - especially where there is little or no contact at all with modern Christians.
In the only polity in the world where Jews are a majority, the State of Israel, this problem is further compounded by the political and sociological context. In the Middle East, as in most parts of the world, communities tend to live in their own linguistic, cultural and confessional settings, and Israel is no exception. Moreover Christian Arabs in Israel are a minority within a minority–approximately 120,000 among an Arab citizenry of around a million and a half which is overwhelmingly Muslim and which constitutes some twenty per cent of the Israeli citizenry as a whole (some seven and a half million.)
It is true that Christian Arab Israelis are a particularly successful religious minority in many respects. Their socio-economic and educational standards are well above average–their schools receive the highest grades in annual matriculation examinations–many of them have been politically prominent and they have been able to derive much benefit from the democratic system of which they are an integral part. However, the daily life of the vast majority of Arabs and Jews takes place in their own respective contexts. As a result, most Jewish Israelis do not meet contemporary Christians; and even when they travel abroad, they tend to meet non-Jews as such, not as modern Christians. Accordingly, until recently most of Israeli society has been quite unaware of the profound changes in Catholic-Jewish relations. However, this situation has begun to alter significantly in the last decade for different reasons, but two in particular are especially noteworthy.
The first is the impact of the visit of the late Pope John Paul II in the year 2000, following the establishment of full bilateral relations between Israel and the Holy See six years earlier. While the latter had already had some effect on perceptions in Israel, it was the power of the visual images, the significance of which Pope John Paul II understood so well, that revealed clearly to the majority of Israeli society the transformation that had taken place in Christian attitudes and teaching towards the Jewish people with whom the Pope himself had maintained and further sought mutual friendship and respect. For Israelis to see the Pope at the Western Wall, the remnant of the Second Temple, standing there in respect for Jewish tradition and placing there the text that he had composed for a liturgy of forgiveness that had taken place two weeks earlier here at St. Peter's, asking Divine forgiveness for sins committed against the Jews down the ages, was stunning and overwhelming in its effect. Israeli Jewry still has a long way to go in overcoming the negative past, but there is no question that attitudes have changed since that historic visit. In addition it led to the remarkable new avenue for dialogue, understanding and collaboration in the form of the bilateral commission of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with Jewry, established at John Paul II's initiative and praised extensively by Pope Benedict XVI during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land last year and also in his words at the great synagogue here in Rome earlier this year.
The other major factor is the influx of other Christians who have doubled the demographic make-up of Christianity in Israel.
I refer first of all to the estimated approximately fifty thousand practicing Christians who were part and parcel of the immigration to Israel in the last two decades from the former Soviet Union. As integrally connected at the same time to Jewish society through familial and cultural ties, they arguably represent the first Christian minority that sees itself at the same time as part and parcel of a Jewish majority since the very first Christian community.
These Christians, as the Arab Christian communities, are Israeli citizens who enjoy full franchise and equality before the law. However, there is a third significant Christian population in Israel whose legal standing is sometimes problematic.
These are the scores of thousands of practicing Christians among almost a quarter of a million of migrant workers - from the Philippines, Eastern Europe, Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. Most of them are in the country legally and temporarily. However, close to half of them have entered or remained illegally and their position is legally precarious.
Nevertheless the substantial Christian presence among this population maintains a vibrant religious life and constitutes a significant third dimension to the Christian reality in Israel today.
These factors have contributed, among others, to an increasing familiarity in Israel with contemporary Christianity. In addition, while there are an estimated two hundred or so Israeli organizations promoting Arab-Jewish understanding and cooperation generally , there are also literally dozens of bodies promoting interreligious encounter, dialogue and studies, and the Christian presence in these is disproportionate and highly significant. This of course is substantially due to the presence of Christian institutions and their clergy, scholars, international representatives of churches and so on, who contribute totally out of proportion to their numbers to these efforts especially in the field of scholarship.
Moreover the fact that in the State of Israel, Christians, as Muslims, are minorities with a need to be accepted and understood by the Jewish majority also serves as impetus for interfaith engagement (as opposed to elsewhere where the contrary may often be the case.)
Christians in Israel are obviously in a very different situation from their sister communities in the Holy Land who are part and parcel of a Palestinian society struggling for its independence and who are inevitably caught up in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on a daily basis. Indeed the location of some of these communities on the intersection between Israeli and Palestinian jurisdiction means that they often bear the brunt of security measures which the Jewish State feels obliged to maintain in order to protect its own citizenry against continuous violence from within the Palestinian territories. It is only right and proper that such Palestinian Christians should express their distress and their hopes regarding the situation. However it is notable and regrettable that such expressions have not always been in consonance with the letter and spirit of the Magisterium concerning the relationship to Jews and Judaism. This would seem to be reflected in a wider geographical context, where the impact of the Arab-Israeli conflict has all too often meant a discomfort for many Christians with the Church's rediscovery of its Jewish roots and sometimes a preference for historical prejudice.
Nevertheless the plight of Palestinians generally and Palestinian Christians in particular should be of profound concern to Jews both in Israel and the Diaspora.
To begin with, especially as Judaism brought the recognition to the world that every human person is created in the Divine Image; and that accordingly, as the sages of the Talmud teach, any action of disrespect for another person, is an act of disrespect for the Creator himself; we have a special responsibility in particular for neighbors who suffer. This responsibility is even greater when suffering is born out of a conflict of which we are a part and paradoxically precisely where we have the moral and religious duty to protect and defend ourselves.
For me personally as an Israeli Jerusalemite, the distressing situation in the Holy Land and the suffering of so many on the different sides of the political divide, is a source of much pain; even as I fully realize that it is used and abused to heighten various tensions that go well beyond the geographical context of the conflict itself.
Yet I give thanks to God for the remarkable amount of organizations in our society working to alleviate as much suffering as possible in this very difficult context.
I am proud to be a founder of one of these organizations, Rabbis for Human Rights, whose director and members, precisely as loyal Israeli citizens, continue to struggle to preserve and advance the human dignity of all and especially of the vulnerable. I am of course fully conscious of the carnage of the recent past in the streets of our cities and the ongoing threats of the present from those openly committed to the destruction and extermination of Israel. Notwithstanding, we must strive to do all we can to alleviate the hardships of the situation and especially as they pertain to the Christian communities in Jerusalem and environs.
In fact, in recent months there has been a notable improvement in conditions, for example, regarding the free movement of clergy, and there have also been recent indications that there is a growing understanding of the needs of the local Christian communities by the authorities, notwithstanding the security challenges. We continue to advocate for such, believing it to be ultimately in the interests of all.
Indeed, Jewish responsibility to ensure that Christian communities flourish in our midst, respecting the very fact that the Holy Land is the land of Christianity's birth and holy places, is strengthened by our increasingly rediscovered fraternity.
Yet even beyond our particular relationship, Christians as a minority in both Jewish and Muslim contexts play a very special role for our societies at large.
The situation of minorities is always a profound reflection of the social and moral condition of a society as a whole. The wellbeing of Christian communities in the Middle East is nothing less than a kind of barometer of the moral condition of our countries. The degree to which Christians enjoy civil and religious rights and liberties testifies to the health or infirmity of the respective societies in the Middle East.
Moreover, as I have already indicated, Christians play a disproportionate role in promoting interreligious understanding and cooperation in the country. Indeed I would presume to suggest that this is precisely the Christian métier, to contribute to overcoming the prejudice and misunderstanding that bedevil the Holy Land and which of course are greatly reinforced in the region at large. While it is not fair to expect the small local Christian communities to be capable of bearing such responsibility alone, perhaps we may hope that supported in this by their universal Church and its central authority, they may indeed be blessed peacemakers in the city whose name means peace and which has such significance for our communities. Already some initial sign of this has been evident in the local Catholic leadership role in the establishment in recent years of the Council of the Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, which brings together the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the Shaaria Courts and Ministry of Religious Affairs of the Palestinian Authority, and the official Christian leadership in the Holy Land.
This Council not only facilitates communication between the various religious authorities, but it is also committed and working to combat misunderstanding , bigotry and incitement, and also seeks to be a force for reconciliation and peace so that two nations and three religions may live in the land in full dignity, freedom and tranquility.
The Instrumentum Laboris of this Special Assembly for the Middle East quotes Pope Benedict XVI in his interview with Osservatore Romano on his way to the Holy Land as follows: "it is important on the one hand to have bilateral dialogues–with the Jews and with Islam–and then also trilateral dialogue" (sect.96). Indeed this last year, for the first time, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Relations and the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews co-hosted together with the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC) and the foundation for the Three Cultures in Seville Spain, our first trilateral dialogue.
This was a particular joy for me as the proposal for this was put forward during my chairmanship of IJCIC and I earnestly hope that this is just the beginning of more extensive trilateral dialogue, to overcome suspicion, prejudice and misunderstanding, so that we may be able to highlight the shared values in the family of Abraham for the well-being of all humanity.
It appears to me that the aforementioned bilateral commission with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Council of the Religious Institutions of the Holy Land together offer even greater opportunity and challenge in this regard.
The Instrumentum Laboris also provides important insights into the nature of relations for Christians with both Muslims and Jews. It quotes Pope Benedict XVI's words in Cologne in August 2005 when he described relations with Islam as "a vital necessity….on which in large measure our future depends" (sect.95).
Indeed in the Middle East this is a truism. Whether one understands the concept of dar el Islam in just a geographical/cultural context or in a theological one, the critical question for the future of our respective communities is whether or not our Muslim brethren can see the Christian and Jewish presence as a fully legitimate and integral part of the region as a whole. Truly the need to address this issue is nothing less than "a vital necessity…on which…our future depends".
Indeed this relates to very issue that is at the "root" of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Those who claim that "occupation" is the "root cause" of conflict are at best disingenuous.
This conflict had been going on for decades long before the Six Day War in 1967 as a result of which the West Bank and Gaza came under Israeli control. "Occupation" in fact is precisely a consequence of the conflict, the real "root issue" of which is precisely whether the Arab world can tolerate a non-Arab sovereign polity within its midst.
However, the Instrumentum Laboris commenting on Dei Verbum describes the dialogue of the Church "with her elder brothers" as not just necessary, but as "essential" (sect.87). Indeed in his visit to the great synagogue in this city this year, Pope Benedict XVI quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church (sect.839).
"It is in pondering her own mystery that the Church, the People of God of the New Covenant, discovers her own profound bond with the Jews, who were chosen by the Lord before all others to receive His word", and added that "the Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God's revelation".
These words echo those of the late Pope John Paul II who in his historic visit to the same central Jewish place of worship in this city in 1986 declared that "the Jewish religion is not extrinsic to us but in a certain way is intrinsic to our own religion. With Judaism therefore we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion." Furthermore in his Apostolic Exhortation of June 28th 2003 he described "dialogue and cooperation with believers of the Jewish religion" as being "fundamentally important for the self-knowledge of Christians" in keeping with the Synod's call "for acknowledgment of the common roots linking Christianity and the Jewish people, who are called by God to a covenant which remains irrevocable".
As I have noted, the political realities in the Middle East do not always make it easy for Christians in the region to acknowledge, let alone embrace, these exhortations. However I pray that the miracle of what John Paul II referred to as "the flowering of a new springtime in mutual relations" will increasingly become evident in the Middle East as throughout the world.
To this end let us dedicate ourselves ever more devotedly both through prayer and in work for peace and dignity for all. Let us pray in the words of Pope John Paul II at the Western Wall in Jerusalem with which Pope Benedict XVI concluded his presentation at the Rome great synagogue: "Send Your peace upon the Holy Land, upon the Middle East, upon the entire human family; stir the hearts of those who call upon Your Name, to walk humbly in the path of justice and compassion".
And allow me, as one who comes to you from the city that is holy and beloved to us all, to conclude with the words of the Psalmist "May the Lord bless you from Zion and may you see the good of Jerusalem all the days of your life"(Psalm 128:5).
Mideast Synod's Report After the Discussion
"Communion of Faith and Love ... Binds Us to the Universal Church"
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 18, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is the "relatio post disceptationem" (report after the discussion) that was read today by the general relator of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, Patriarch Antonios Naguib of Alexandria of the Copts.
With this report, the general relator summarized the various interventions heard during the last week of the general congregations, and offered several guidelines for orientation to facilitate the works of the working groups.
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Most Holy Father,
Your Eminences, Beatitudes and Excellencies, Fraternal Delegates of the Sister Churches and Ecclesial Communities,
Dear Sisters and Brothers, Auditors, Experts, Invited Guests and Assistants,
“You will receive the power of the Holy Spirit which will come on you, and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). On the day of Pentecost, the Apostles received the promised Holy Spirit and obeyed the mission that Christ entrusted to them. They traveled throughout the world, preaching Christ and the Gospel and bearing witness to him even offering the supreme witness of martyrdom. Each synod assembly is a renewal and a continuation of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is also at work today, with us and in us, as he always will be with his Church.
As a happy and providential happening, the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops began its work on 11 October 2010, the 48th anniversary of the inauguration of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (11 October 1962) by the Blessed Pope John XXIII, whose feast is celebrated the same day. This year is also the 45th anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops by Pope Paul VI on 15 September 1965.
In this Synod dedicated to “Communion and Witness”, there were cardinals, patriarchs, bishops, consecrated men and women, lay persons, invited brothers and sisters, united around the Holy Father and guided by the Holy Spirit in a ‘Communion’ for all to see, not in theory but in fact.
We would like to renew our gratitude to the Holy Father, who took the initiative of convoking this historical Assembly. We are experiencing its fraternal, warm and optimistic atmosphere, leading us to hope for many beneficial fruits for the future of our Churches and their mission. We would like this Synod to be of value for all Churches, in both the East and West, leading them all to a living, practical communion. We also thank the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops for its preparatory work and guidance.
This Synod is essentially dedicated to the Churches of the Middle East, as its title indicates. But the Holy Father wished to add the Churches of North Eastern Africa, the Gulf, Turkey and Iran, which are closely related to our Churches. Just as he wished the participation of the heads of dicasteries of the Holy See, the representatives of our Churches of the Diaspora, the Union of Superiors General and the Catholic episcopal conferences, as well as the assistants to the Special Secretary, the auditors, the fraternal delegates of the Sister-Churches and ecclesial communities, and those specially invited guests from Islam and Judaism. This makes the Synod a good example of ecclesial communion, universal participation, and an ecumenical and inter-religious encounter.
A. The goal of the Synod
“Let anyone who can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Churches” (Rev 2:7). I feel that it would be useful to recall once again the twofold aim of the Synod:
1) to confirm and strengthen the Church’s members in their Christian identity, through the Word of God and the sacraments; and
2) to foster ecclesial communion between the Catholic Churches sui iuris, so that they may offer an authentic and effective witness. Essential elements in this witness in our lives are ecumenism, inter-religious dialogue and the missionary effort.
We would like to give our Christian people reasons for their presence in our countries and confirm them in their mission of being, and continuing to be, authentic witnesses of the Risen Christ, in every aspect of their lives. Amidst oftentimes very difficult yet promising circumstances in life, they are a visible icon of Christ, the “flesh and blood” incarnation of his Church and the present-day instrument of the Holy Spirit’s activity.
B. A reflection guided by Holy Scripture
The synod fathers illustrated this point well. Our region remains faithful to the revealed Word of God, written by the men of our lands, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The people and our lands incarnate the history of God’s love for humanity, becoming a message of love for all people. The Word of God will always be the source of inspiration of our communion, our fidelity, our love, our spirit of mission and our witness. We must become people of the Bible, animated by the spirit of the Gospel which transforms us into living Gospels, sown like seeds and leaven where we live, to cultivate there a Gospel culture and not be conformed to the materialistic, egotistical and relativist culture of society. The Word of God remains the spiritual source and the theological treasure of our living liturgies.
We were reminded that our faithful have a great thirst for the Word of God. If we are not able to give them to drink, they will go to drink elsewhere. This is why we need many academically trained persons in biblical matters, but especially those who are pastorally and spiritually specialized in Holy Scripture. “Priests, as co-workers with their bishops, have the primary duty of proclaiming the Gospel of God to all… In order that it might more effectively move men's minds, the word of God ought not to be explained in a general and abstract way, but rather by applying the lasting truth of the Gospel to the particular circumstances of life” (Presbyterorum ordinis, 4). Therefore, they should help the faithful to see Jesus Christ the fulfilment of the Scriptures and to allow the Word of God to shed light on the happenings of their own history (cf. Ps 118:105).
The concept of “revelation” needs to be more defined, because of its ambiguous character as a result of different trends in Islam. For us, revelation is the saving intervention of God in human history, through historical events experienced as God’s gratuitous acts of love to his faithful. It is the dialogue between God and humanity in history. The oral announcement of these interventions is part of this “revelation”, because it transmits faith from generation to generation. Holy Scripture is a synthesis of this revelation, but it remains a “dead letter” for readers if it is not received as the “transmission of faith” from their Church and their Christian community. Proclaiming, listening to, reading or meditating on the Bible is an encounter with the person of Christ himself. The Bible necessarily has a privileged place in the liturgy and the celebrations of the Word in small groups, as exemplified in the first Christian communities, for an existential understanding of the Word of God. Through celebration, the Word becomes life-giving and effective in the lives of those who listen, meditate, celebrate and find their way in life by its light.
The Word of God must be the foundation of all education and formation in our “households”, our Churches and our schools, especially in our minority status in societies with a non-Christian majority, where the culture and values of this majority prevail and permeate every area of public life and pose the risk of conditioning our thinking and behavior. The Word of God must evangelize our life, so that our life can evangelize society.
I. THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN THE MIDDLE EAST
A. THE SITUATION OF CHRISTIANS IN THE MIDDLE EAST
1. An Historical Sketch: Unity in Diversity
The light of Christ came from the East. Christ will always remain the true, invincible sun that will never be eclipsed. The face of Christ shines like the sun (Mt 17:2) and illuminates every aspect of human history.
The particular Churches find their origin in the Church of Jerusalem, born at Pentecost. From Jerusalem, from the East, our Churches and all the Churches of Christ were born. Christianity is rooted in the East, it grew there and spread from there to the West, and to the ends of the earth. St. Paul’s conversion occurred in Damascus, which he left as an Arab to become the “Apostle of the Nations”.
The Churches multiplied yet were united by the Word of God, the sacraments and the teaching of the Apostles. Unity is an essential component of the Christian and the Church of Christ: “Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32).
Unfortunately, following conflicts in the course of her history the Church has endured various divisions. To assist ecumenical dialogue, historical and theological studies need to focus more on these tragic periods and events.
2. Apostolic Communities in an Apostolic Land
“Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Gospel to all creation” (Mk 16:15). These were Jesus’ words as he left his disciples. Jesus takes the initiative and places his trust in the apostles who did not believe those who had seen him risen, saying: “Go! Proclaim!” Jesus did not only command the apostles to proclaim the Gospel, but to proclaim it to the whole world. This is the Church’s mission. To be “Christian” is to be “missionary”. We cannot be Christian if we are not missionary. Proclamation is a duty of the Church and the Christian. Proclamation done in peace and respect is not proselytism.
The Apostles and the Church born in these lands were faithful to this commandment from the Master, taking the faith in Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth, often at the cost of martyrdom. Their blood was the seed of many Churches. The first Churches are the fruit of the death and the resurrection of Christ. Our Churches were at the forefront of missionary activity. Apart from their roots and missionary histories, our Churches are open to oikouméné, “universality”, as the crossroads where East meets West.
Today, Jesus again asks us to continue the activity of the Apostles and our Churches of origin. Jesus never stops sending out his Church, sending us out “to all creation”. Therefore, we are sent on a mission in our world of schools, towns, work, countries and the entire planet. Jesus does not ask us to demonstrate the proof of things or to convince people through argument, he simply asks us to bear witness to our faith with joy and strength.
By her very nature, the Church is essentially missionary (Ad gentes, 20). The proclamation of the Gospel and the proclamation of Christ to all peoples is the supreme duty of our Churches and all Churches. Our Churches need to reawaken our missionary zeal and to renew in us the meaning, sense, ardor, enthusiasm and dynamism of our being missionary. Missionary activity must once again find a place in the life of our Eastern Churches. We must again renew our commitment to evangelisation, within as well as outside our countries. “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16). “Mission” and the “proclamation” must find their places in our Churches, according to the concrete possibilities in each country.
For this to happen, missionary formation is necessary for our faithful, especially those in leadership positions in the life of the Church. Moreover, a sense of mission must be closely bound to the vocation and ministry of the priest. We call for the establishment of an Institute for Missionary Formation, at least on the regional level. Above all, we must support the missions and missionaries through prayer.
3. The Role of Christians in Society, Although a Small Minority
Middle Eastern Christians are ‘indigenous citizens’. They are fully a part of the fabric of society and are identified with their respective countries. This conviction must be reinforced in the souls of the Pastors and the faithful, to help them live with serenity, strength and commitment in their homeland.
The synod fathers spoke a great deal about the favourable conditions for Christians in our countries. The socio-political context is an important factor in this area. “Positive laicity” was evoked as a favourable factor. But the term itself is not well accepted among us, because it is associated with atheism or secularism, which marginalises the religious dimension and an openness to God and the Absolute. We prefer the term “civic state”. However, migrants would find themselves faced with the term ‘laicity’. The term ‘citizenship’ is also problematic, inasmuch as its concept is narrower in the East than in the West.
The “civic state” designates a socio-political system based on respect for each person and individual freedom, equality and total citizenship, the recognition of the role of religion, even in public life, and moral values. This system recognizes and guarantees religious freedom, freedom of worship and freedom of conscience. It distinguishes between the civil and religious order, without either having dominance over the other, and respect for each one’s autonomy. Religion must not be politicised nor the State take precedence over religion.
A qualitative presence is required for the Church to have a real and effective impact on society. This requires a sound doctrinal, spiritual and social formation of Pastors and the faithful, especially youth. Our Churches must awaken a courageous commitment of the faithful to a visible and incisive presence in public life, administration, public works and multi-confessional democratic parties, making them ‘indispensable’ through their quality, effectiveness and capability in honestly serving the common good. The number of persons in the Church is not as important as their living their faith and effectively transmitting the message. In this regard, the family has an essential part in educating children in both this spirit and outlook.
It is also important to instill in people a spirit of ‘citizenship’ both in ways of thinking and the manner of living. Modern media (sms, website, internet, television, radio) have an important place in this field. They provide a powerful and valuable means for spreading the Christian message, for facing the challenges to the Christian message and for communicating with the faithful of the Diaspora. Key persons need formation to achieve these ends. Eastern Christians must commit themselves to working for the common good, in all its aspects, as they always have done.
Through the presentation of the Church’s social doctrine, which at times has been lacking, our communities provide a sound contribution in the construction of society. The promotion of the family and the defence of life should have a primary place in our Church’s teaching and mission. Education is the privileged area for activity and major investment. Where possible, our schools should better help the needy. Though the sacrifices are many, these schools, are, in a certain way, the core of our presence in cities, inasmuch as they are the privileged places – sometimes the only ones – which ensure a positive, constructive, ecumenical and inter-religious manner of living together. They promote and reinforce the Gospel and human values of human rights, non-violence, dialogue, openness, harmony and peace. In some countries, they are the only places of Christian formation. They must be maintained at all costs. We express our gratitude to those who provide assistance to achieve these goals. Through their social, healthcare and charitable activities, available to all members of society, our Churches visibly collaborate for the common good.
To ensure her evangelical credibility, the Church must find the means to guarantee transparency in the management of money, by clearly distinguishing between what belongs to the Church and what belongs personally to those in service of the Church. In this regard, appropriate structures are needed.
B. THE CHALLENGES FACING CHRISTIANS
1. The Political Conflicts in the Region
The socio – political situations of our countries have a direct impact on Christians, who feel more strongly their negative consequences. While condemning the violence whatever its origin and calling for a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we express our solidarity with the Palestinian people, whose current situation encourages fundamentalism. We also call upon the political world to pay sufficient attention to the tragic situation of Christians in Iraq who are the main victim of the war and its effects.
According to the possibilities in each country, Christians must promote democracy, justice and peace, and positive secularism, with the distinction between religion and state, and respect for every religion. An attitude of positive engagement in society is a constructive response for society as well as for the Church.
The Churches in the West are asked not take the side of one party, forgetting the point of view and the conditions of the other.
2. Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience
Human rights are the foundation which guarantees the good of the whole person, and the criteria of any political system. Religious freedom is an essential component of human rights. The lack of religious freedom is most often associated with deprivation of fundamental rights. Freedom of worship is an aspect of religious freedom. In most of our countries freedom of worship is guaranteed by the constitution. But even there, in some countries, certain acts or practices limit their application.
The other aspect of religious freedom is freedom of conscience, based on the free choice of the person. Freedom of conscience is confirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (10 December 1948, Article 18), and ratified by most of the countries of our region. Religious freedom is not a relativism that treats all faiths equally. Rather it is the result of the duty of every person to adhere to the truth by a firm choice of conscience, and with respect to the dignity of each person. With all people of good will, the Church seeks to promote pluralism in equality. Education in this sense is a valuable contribution to the cultural progress of the country, ensuring more justice and equality before the law.
Religious freedom includes also the right to confess one’s faith, which is a right and duty for every religion. This peaceful confession is very different from “proselytism” which the Church strongly condemns in all its forms. According to Wikipedia, "the term proselytism comes from the Latin word proselytus and the Greek ?????????? (prosêlutos), which means ‘new entrant (within a country)’. In the New Testament, this term is commonly used to designate a person who comes from paganism, to approach Jewish and then Christian monotheism (Mt 23:15, Jn 12:20, Acts 2:10, etc.). Proselytism, therefore designates the attitude of those who seek to create converts, new adherents to their faith. By extension, this means the zeal to indoctrinate people. The term now has a negative connotation in its use when referring to religious or political activities”. It should be noted that this meaning applies to these activities when they use fraudulent or dishonest means, or abuse their authority, their wealth or their power to attract new followers. The confession of faith that the Church proclaims is the contrary: it is the serene and peaceful proclamation and presentation of faith in Jesus Christ.
3. Christians and the Evolution of Contemporary Islam
Since the 1970s, we have been seeing in the region the rise of political Islam, which includes various religious currents. It affects the situation of Christians, especially in the Arab world. It wants to impose an Islamic way of life on all citizens, sometimes by violence. Therefore, it constitutes a real threat to all, and we must face these extremist currents together.
One of the major challenges threatening the presence of Christians in some countries in the Middle East is emigration. This topic is a common concern in all Churches, and should be considered in an ecumenical partnership. The main causes of this troubling phenomenon are economic and political situations, the rise of fundamentalism, and the restriction of freedoms and equality, exacerbated strongly by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the war in Iraq. Youth, the educated and affluent people are more likely to leave, depriving the Church and the country of its most valuable resources. Emigration has become a general phenomenon that affects Christians and Muslims. It deprives our Churches and our countries of valuable and moderate elements. The motives that cause people, especially Christians, to leave the region would constitute a good subject of sincere and frank dialogue with Muslims.
Emigration is a natural right left to the free choice of individuals and families, especially those located in harsh conditions. But the Church has the duty to encourage her faithful to remain as witnesses, apostles and builders of peace and welfare of their countries. Pastors should help the faithful become more aware of their vocation, their mission and their historical role in their countries, as bearers of Christ's message to their country, even amidst difficulties and persecution.
Their absence would negatively affect the future. It is with deep faith that Christians find the motivation to live courageously and joyfully their Christianity in their country. It is important to avoid defeatist talk, or encourage emigration as a preferred option. On the other hand, we must foster the conditions that encourage the decision to stay. It is up to politicians to consolidate peace, democracy and development, to foster a climate of stability and confidence. Christians, along with all people of good will, are called to engage positively in achieving this goal. Greater awareness on the part of international bodies of the duty to contribute to the development of our countries would help a great deal in this regard.
Many speakers pointed out the very positive relationship between Eastern Catholic communities in the Diaspora and the local Latin Church of the host countries, including the United States, Oceania, Australia and many European countries. The Christians arriving from the Middle East appeal to the hospitality of their brothers and sisters in the West, and awaken their Christian consciences. Our Churches are very grateful to the Churches of the host countries for the valuable assistance they provide to our emigrant faithful. The synod fathers drew attention to the necessity and importance of communicating with the Christians of Europe the causes that make millions of Christians leave the Middle East. An Eastern Patriarchal Vicar could be appointed to coordinate the pastoral care for faithful of his Church in the Diaspora.
The host Churches should provide immigrants with their structures: parishes, schools, meeting centres, and others. This requires structures of reception, social and cultural tutoring and guidance. Most of the welcoming dioceses have special pastoral programmes for immigrants, with a special section for Eastern communities. With gratitude, we greatly appreciate their laudable concern and solicitude for solidarity. Western Christians are to express effectively their support for Christians in the Middle East, by helping and supporting their Eastern brothers.
The host Churches in their laws and sacramental practices are also invited to know and respect eastern theology, traditions and heritage. One of the roles of the host Churches is also to accompany migrants, overwhelmed by the painful memory of humiliating and offensive actions through a process of forgiveness. These Churches will act to ensure that their countries take appropriate measures to guarantee the respect, dignity and rights of the human person and of the family, which must remain united, and receive what is necessary to lead a dignified life, acceptable to God.
The Churches of North Africa want to collaborate with the Churches of the Middle East, and also seek the presence of Arab priests to strengthen their dialogue with Muslims. The Latin Catholic Church in the Maghreb is living in a pluralist and ecumenically satisfying context. Latin Churches in the Gulf have explained the complicated special situation in which they are located, and which makes them adopt structures and a pastoral style that appear restrictive. They confirm that they are doing everything possible to meet the vast needs of migrants, within the restrictive limits of civil and religious possibilities.
The synod fathers have emphasized the need and frequency of extending the jurisdiction of the Patriarchs to the faithful of their rite outside the territory of the Patriarchal Church sui iuris. They are eager to move from the territorial concept to the personal concept. Limiting the jurisdiction of the Patriarch to the faithful of his Church sui iuris is logical on the personal level and not a territorial one. How can one be “Father and Head" of a people without a head? This extension of jurisdiction arises in the context of an adaptation of pastoral service to the faithful in the eastern Diaspora. Communion is a personal relationship, animated by the Holy Spirit. This perspective is very important for ecumenical dialogue and the progress towards perfect unity.
Emigration is also a major support for the countries and the Churches. The Church of the original country must find ways to maintain close ties with her emigrated faithful and to ensure their spiritual assistance. It is indispensable to provide the faithful of the Eastern Churches, in Latin territories, with the Liturgy in their own rite. The selling of property in the homeland is highly regrettable. The retention or acquisition of land encourages return. The land affirms and reinforces identity and belonging, and this requires a rootedness in the land. Communities in the Diaspora have a role to encourage and consolidate the Christian presence in the East, to strengthen their witness and to support their cause for the common good of the country. Appropriate pastoral care should take care of internal emigration in each country.
5. The Immigration of Christians to the Middle East from the World Over
The Middle Eastern countries are experiencing a new phenomenon: receiving many African and Asian migrant workers, most of whom are women. They find themselves in an atmosphere of Muslim predominance, and sometimes with little opportunity for religious practice. Many feel abandoned, faced with abuse and mistreatment, in situations of injustice, and violation of laws and international conventions. Some immigrants change their names to be more accepted and supported.
Our Churches must make a greater effort to help them, by welcoming, by support, and by human, religious and social assistance. In each of our countries, our Catholic Churches should establish a special pastoral care proper for them in a coordinated effort among the bishops, religious congregations, and social and charitable organizations. This also requires cooperation between the Catholic authorities of the place, and the hierarchy of the Churches of origin.
C. RESPONSE OF CHRISTIANS IN THEIR DAILY LIFE
Christian witness at all levels is the primary response in the circumstances in which Christians live. The development of this witness, in following Jesus Christ ever more closely, is a requirement at all levels: clergy, religious orders, congregations, institutes and societies of apostolic life, as well as lay people, according to the particular vocation of each one. The formation of clergy and of faithful, homilies and catechesis must deepen and strengthen the sense of faith and conscience of the role and of the mission in society, as a translation and witness of this faith. Ecclesial renewal is required, including conversion and purification, spiritual growth and determination of priorities in life and mission.
A special effort must be made to discover and train the leadership needed at all levels. They should be a model of witness, to support and encourage their brothers and sisters, especially in difficult times. It is also advisable to train leaders to present Christianity to Christians who have little contact with the Church or are far from her, or to non-Christians. The quality of leaders is more important than the number. The ongoing formation is indispensable. Particular attention should be given to youth, who are the strength of the present and the hope of the future. Christians should be encouraged to be engaged in public institutions to build up public life.
The danger that threatens Christians in the Middle East comes not only from their minority status, or external threats, but above all from their distance from the truth of their Gospel, their faith and their mission. A divided life is more dangerous to Christianity than any other threat. The true tragedy of man is not when he suffers because of his mission, but when he has no more mission and thereby loses the meaning and purpose of his life. Even in difficult and tragic situations, a Christian response in daily life will be pastoral commitment, the works of charity and cultural and educational initiatives of high quality. Concrete examples illustrate this commitment, as in Turkey and elsewhere.
II. ECCLESIAL COMMUNION
A. PARTICIPATION IN THE PASCHAL MYSTERY: CHRIST’S DEATH AND RESURRECTION
The mystery of the Church consists in its identity as the Body of Christ. The Church is essentially communion with Jesus Christ: "Abide in me as I do in you ... I am the vine, you are the branches" (Jn 15:4-5). "Whoever eats my body and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him" (Jn 6:56). “Christ is the Head of the Body, the Church" (Col 1:18). He unites us to his Passover: all members should strive to be like him "until Christ be formed in them" (Gal 4:19). "To this end, we are introduced to the mysteries of his life ... associated with his sufferings as the body to the head, united in his passion to be united to his glory" (Lumen gentium, 7). He provides for our growth (cf. Col 2:19): to make us grow toward him, our head (cf. Eph 4:11-16), Christ has given to his body, the Church, the gifts and services by which we help one another on the path of salvation. Christ together with the Church are therefore the "total Christ". The Church is one with Christ. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 787-795)
The source and the model of communion are therefore, nothing less than the Trinitarian life of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The participation of the baptized in the Trinity creates communion among persons and communities. The universal Church is a communion of Churches. The Church makes real the communion in the paschal mystery, the death and resurrection of Christ. Communion profoundly lives out unity in diversity, and diversity in unity. This should serve to bring out the beauty of the venerable traditions of our Churches in a deep communion that respects their specific riches.
Communion is the first requirement in the complex reality of the Middle East, and the best witness for our societies. “Without communion there is no witness” (Pope Benedict XVI). It is a communion of faith and love that binds us to the universal Church. We need to deepen an ecclesiology of communion. This will also help in ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue. We need better to appreciate, understand and to live out the unity of the Church. It is essential that we teach the Church as a “communion” in catechesis, homilies, and in the formation of clergy, religious men and women, and the laity. Communion is called first of all to be affective before becoming effective. It is important for us to cultivate a deep sense of spiritual communion, of belonging to one and the same Church.
B. PARTICIPATION IN THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH: ONE, HOLY, CATHOLIC AND APOSTOLIC
1. Communion Within the Catholic Church (ad intra)
The “communion” among the Churches is the first goal and first task of this Synod. Communion is based on and nourished by the Word of God, the Sacraments, especially Baptism and the Eucharist and unity with the Bishop of Rome and Successor of Peter. We are in the first place members of the same Body of Christ, of the same Church, and therefore called to close collaboration, and to a style of life lived in solidarity, charity and brotherhood. Pastors must help the faithful to know, appreciate, love and live the beautiful variety of the Church in unity and love. We must proclaim and teach the meaning of the Church as one, in parishes, schools, seminaries, in catechism, in houses of formation, in movements and in all the institutions of our Churches. The use of the media here is essential and very beneficial.
Communion must start within each Church sui iuris. That is why we must strengthen the structures of communion in the Patriarchal Synod of each Church. One concrete expression of this communion would be the solidarity of personnel and goods between Dioceses. It is desirable to establish structures of communion for common pastoral projects: one inter-ritual seminary in each country, one common pastoral work in the region for young people, for catechesis, for the family, and other common areas. The Popes and the Holy See call religious orders, congregations and movements of Western origin to adopt the language, the rites and the liturgy of the country where they conduct their mission, and to insert themselves fully into its overall pastoral effort. This will ensure a major inculturation into the spiritual, patristic, liturgical, cultural and linguistic heritage of the place and strengthen communion and witness. They must painstakingly avoid forming a separate group.
The difficult circumstances of the present moment encourage us to stronger cohesion among Christian communities, avoiding all confessionalism so as to give positive and constructive responses to the great challenges of the day. Confessionalism and exaggerated attachment to an ethnic group risk turning our Churches into ghettos, turning them in on themselves. An ethnic and nationalist Church impedes the work of the Spirit and is contrary to the universal mission of the Church. We need to see all the Churches in our region united in reflection and action on our common problems such as human rights and other crucial issues. Catholic communities must work together. A periodic meeting of Bishops of the region is to be encouraged. The Council of the Catholic Patriarchs of the Middle East will be able to study this matter at its next Assembly, and to fix the date, place, and the financial participation of members. It is a powerful tool for the establishment of an overall pastoral approach for the region, and to make the Council of Patriarchs more present and more effective. A post-synodal structure should assure the follow-up of the Synod in the life of our Churches. We would like it to be in connection with the Holy Father and the Holy See.
Inter-ecclesial relations must be encouraged, not only among the Churches sui iuris in the Middle East, but also with the Eastern Churches and with the Latin Church in the Diaspora, in close unity with the Holy Father, the Holy See and the Pontifical Representatives. Our communion with the Churches of the West has deep historical roots. Europe owes its faith to the Eastern Churches (Acts 16:9-10). Monastic life in the West was inspired by monasticism in the Middle East. Today, the West welcomes and supports communities of immigrants from the Middle East, whether of old or recent date. We are most grateful to them. To achieve greater communion, the Latin clergy in the West need to be given a basic knowledge of the sacramental and ecclesial theology of the Eastern Churches and to make known to the Latin faithful the reality and the history of the Eastern Churches.
It is desirable also that the Patriarchs, as part of their identity as “Fathers and Heads” of Churches sui iuris, and who are part of the catholicity of the Catholic Church, be ipso facto members of the College that elects the Supreme Pontiff.
2. Communion Among Bishops, Clergy and Faithful
First of all, communion must be achieved visibly and clearly within each Church. And straight away we must remember that this can only be done by spiritual means: the Eucharist, prayer and the Word of God. The structures of communion and of pastoral work should be created or reactivated. The Code of Canon Law of the Eastern Churches defines some precious structures of communion. We should begin by making them known and putting them faithfully into practice. Inter-ritual pastoral councils should be created for this.
It is of vital importance to value the role of lay men and women and their participation in the life and mission of the Church. For this Synod to become for them and for the entire Church a true spiritual, pastoral and social springtime, we need to reinforce the commitment of the laity to the common pastoral work of the Church. Women, both consecrated and lay, need to find their proper place and mission there.
At the level of clergy, ecclesial communion is to be encouraged. Associations of common friendship and spirituality already exist, and should be supported and reinforced. The group ministry of priests is difficult to realize, but we should not despair. A synod father suggested the creation of a "bank of priests", or of an association of "priests without borders" to answer the needs of Churches who lack them, in a spirit of communion. The same thing could be done at the level of the laity, on the basis of the common priesthood of all Christians. The faithful and the entire Church of God expect from pastors, consecrated persons, and those responsible for pastoral activities a life in greater conformity with the radicality of the Gospel. Without this radiation of holiness, their lives and actions will remain fruitless. They are, above all, the living witnesses and icons of Christ.
At the level of men and women religious, consecrated persons and ecclesial movements, we have the duty to welcome them, encourage and integrate them, ever more closely into the life and the mission of the Church. The new ecclesial realities should neither be feared nor discarded. They are the precious and indispensible gift of the action of the Holy Spirit in the Church and in the world today. We have to rediscover the value and the treasures of monastic and contemplative life, which are a part of our countries. The communities of contemplative life, where they exist, must be encouraged. Where they do not, we can prepare the terrain for the action of the Spirit to kindle contemplative life by prayer. Religious orders which already exist in our countries could give a precious service to our Churches by taking the initiative of establishing communities in other places or countries. Religious and monastic life is the soul of the Church.
3. Communion With the Churches and the Ecclesial Communities: Ecumenism (ad extra)
«That all of them may be one… so that the world may believe» (Jn 17:21). This prayer by Christ must be continued by his disciples in all ages. The division of Christians goes against Christ’s will, constitutes a scandal and impedes proclamation and witness. Mission and ecumenism are closely linked. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches have so much in common that Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI all speak of an "almost complete communion". This must be highlighted above any differences. The positive achievements in the domain of ecumenism, too, must be highlighted and made known. At the same time, we need sincerely to examine our consciences about what we have not done.
A sincere effort is necessary to overcome prejudices, to better understand one another, and to aim for the fullness of communion in faith, sacraments and hierarchical service. This Synod should help further communion and unity with the Orthodox Sister Churches and the ecclesial communities. «The division between Christians is contrary to the same essence of the Church and constitutes an obstacle for her mission » (Letter 5 of the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs on ecumenism). At an official level, the Holy See has taken up initiatives in relation to all the Eastern Churches, in collaboration with the Eastern Catholic Churches. It is necessary and very useful to make them known to the Christians of all Churches in our countries. The media need to help with this.
The Bible, the Word of God, is the fruit of dialogue between God and humankind. This is why it should be a privileged source for dialogue with other Christians, and believers of the other religions. A dialogue of respect, of life and of love, a dialogue of the present and of a sharerd future. It has been pointed out that ecumenism is going through a crisis today. On the other hand, we cannot deny the important positive steps which have been taken so far, through the action and the grace of the Holy Spirit. They are the reason and the cause for trust and hope. They call us to greater commitment in the light of the Word of God. It is urgent to make ecumenism a primary objective in Episcopal Assemblies and Conferences.
The creation of an ecumenical commission in the Council of Eastern Catholic Patriarchs was proposed. The media should be used to reinforce and vivify ecumenism. The creation and support of Christian ecumenical media could be envisaged. An ecumenical congress in each country, to study together the results, the appeals and the recommendations of the Synod would be very useful.
Ecumenical action requires appropriate behaviour: prayer, conversion, sanctification and the mutual exchange of gifts, in a spirit of respect, mutual charity, solidarity and collaboration. Unity is first of all the work of the Holy Spirit and the gift of Christ’s love to his Church. These attitudes should be cultivated and encouraged, by teaching and the media. The establishment of local commissions of ecumenical dialogue is to be hoped for. Studying the history of the Eastern Catholic Churches, as well as that of the Latin Church, would help clarify the context, mentality and the perspectives linked to their birth.
We must also reinforce the initiatives and structures that express and support unity, like the council of Middle Eastern Churches and the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Everything must be done to consolidate the Council of Middle Eastern Churches and help it in accomplishing its mission. The "purification of memory" is an important step in the search for full unity. It is imperative that we all collaborate together for a common pastoral policy and activities. Thus, cooperation between biblical, theological, patristic and cultural studies would promote this spirit of dialogue. We could take common action in training media experts in the local languages. In proclamation and mission, we should carefully avoid any type of proselytism, and any means opposed to the Gospel. It would be good to encourage ecumenism of life, by looking together for better ways to live our faith.
The wish to unify the dates for Christmas and Easter between Catholics and the Orthodox has been expressed several times. This is a pastoral necessity, given the pluralistic context of the region, and the many mixed marriages between Christians of different ecclesial denominations. This is also a powerful witness of communion… How can this be accomplished? We also hope for the unification of an Arabic text for the primary prayers, beginning with the "Our Father". The plea by one fraternal delegate, to establish a "feast day of martyrs" to be celebrated by all Christians, was welcomed. Several synod fathers evoked the positive impact at the ecumenical and inter-religious levels of the Catholic Schools and Universities in the Middle East. Certain synod fathers expressed the hope that the Eastern Churches might be more involved in ecumenical dialogue between the Holy See and the other Churches, and that they might make their particular contributions to it.
Dialogue is an essential means for ecumenism. It requires a positive attitude of understanding, listening and openness to others. This will help overcome mistrust, and enable people to work together to develop religious values, and to collaborate in socially useful projects. Shared problems should be faced together. The repeated baptism of Catholics by the Orthodox is still a cause of suffering and it diminishes progress towards unity. We encourage practical ecumenical collaboration in the diakonia of service and charity. We would like to see the composition of a manual-guide for ecumenical action, adapted to the region or country. Theological dialogue and dialogue of the diakonia should be founded on spiritual dialogue and prayer, and be translated constantly into a dialogue of life. We will avoid all proselytism and any usage opposed to the Gospel. Perhaps a protocol could be established between Churches committing them to avoid any form of proselytism.
With prayer, reflection, study, and in docility to the action of the Holy Spirit, we must seek to respond to the request of the Venerable Servant of God, Pope John Paul II, in his Encyclical Ut Unum Sint (25 May1995), to set out a new way of exercising the primacy, which, not undermining the mission of the Bishop of Rome, draws on the ecclesial forms of the first millennium. If the Holy Father so desires, he could empower a pluri-disciplinary commission to study this delicate subject.
III. CHRISTIAN WITNESS: WITNESSES OF RESURRECTION AND LOVE
«That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim » (1 Jn1:1-3). The Apostles, the Church of the origins, and through them and after them, all Christians are witnesses of the resurrection and love. As in the case of Paul of Tarsus, this is a matter of a personal encounter with the Risen Christ, a spiritual but real encounter, which transforms the Christian into a true witness, even to the point of offering the supreme witness of martyrdom. This experience unites the Christian to the Apostles, saints and martyrs throughout the ages.
Saint Paul lists some necessary characteristics to being a good witness of Christ: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Eph 4:2-3). Only when good relations have been established can we speak about Jesus and his Word. We must make an effort at being faithful to this advice given to us by Saint Paul and welcome persons as they are and love them. The prophetic role of the Church and the faithful needs to be better known and developed as an important part in proclamation and witness.
A. CATECHESIS, WITNESS AND PROCLAMATION FOR THE CHURCH
A Catechesis for Our Times, by Properly Prepared Members of the Faithful
The Church bears witness to the Lord and proclaims his life, works and catechesis, especially initiation to faith and to the sacraments. A sound faith formation and a vibrant spiritual life are the best way of guaranteeing the consolidation of a luminous Christian identity, clear and radiant. Catechesis must address all age groups: children, youth and adults. Catechists must be well prepared for this mission, through a suitable formation which bears in mind today’s problems and challenges. After proper preparation, young people can be good catechists to their peers. Well-prepared parents are to engage in catechetical activities in their families and parishes. The Christian family has a primary role in transmitting the faith to children. Catholic schools, associations and apostolic movements are the privileged places to teach the faith. Our faithful should be formed to understand the Old Testament's part in the work of salvation, which will serve as a safeguard against politicising biblical texts.
Catechesis must be total and complete, taking into account tradition, life experiences, modernity according to Catholic teaching and ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue in truth and charity. The religious training of children, youth and adults must remedy the disappearance of Christian initiation before baptism, now conferred on babies. Religious education must be integrated with human education. The Church's social doctrine, sometimes lacking for the most part, is an integral part of faith formation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church are excellent resources. The pastorals on the family, childhood and youth have not been mentioned sufficiently in the preparatory documents of this Synod. The problem of sects is a serious challenge that affects our Churches. Catechesis must aim at strengthening our faith as we face socio-religious situations, which must be generally studied and a pastoral plan implemented. It is important to establish a post-baptismal catechumenate to welcome converts to Christianity. Catechesis must lead to an active commitment in the service to the poor, the suffering and the marginalised.
Without the witness of their lives, the action of catechists will remain fruitless. They are above all witnesses of the Gospel. Catechesis must also promote moral and social values, respect for one another, the culture of peace and non-violence as well as a commitment to justice and the environment. We wish to encourage the formation of faith in small groups or small communities, which are more inviting in personal relations. This might prevent our faithful from turning to the sects. In this way, the parish will become the community of communities. It was stated that Eastern Christians, like Western ones, need a new evangelisation for profound conversion and renewal in light of the Word of God and the Eucharist.
We must encourage all the faithful, but especially priests, men and women religious, consecrated persons and those responsible in pastoral activity and the apostolate to follow the Church's teachings and to study the documents of the Magisterium, preferably through study in common. Communion also implies frequent contact among patriarchs, bishops, priests and the laity. The spiritual life and the journey of the universal Church must be the primary objectives of formation. Baptism must be given its true meaning and promote Gospel values. The vocation to sanctity must be at the center of faith formation at all stages and forms of the Christian life. Special care must be given to the family, which risks being torn apart and undermined by Western relativism and a dominant non-Christian outlook in our region. Families of mixed religions must be the subject of special pastoral care. The catechetical manuals must supply for what might be lacking and correct errors which are found elsewhere. The topic of "catechetical methodology" was seldom if ever mentioned during the assembly.
The use of modern means of communication is unavoidable in transmitting the faith, in religious formation, in mission and in evangelisation, in educational activity, in the pursuit of peace, in works of development and in activity for the integral development of our societies. The media are the place of witness to Christ and to Christian values. They form a new culture of global communication true and proper, characterised by new languages and new ways of thinking. They are the new areopagi in the global world. Attention needs to be given to avoiding the negative aspects of the media: mass manipulation, the flourishing of sects, violence and pornography and international anti-clericalism. However, it has been noted that the use of the media in our Churches, with few exceptions, is individual and at a primitive level, due to a lack of financial resources, and consequently professional resources, or because of an individualistic way of working. Some suggested the formation of a commission for the vitalisation and the coordination of the means of communication in the Middle East.
Our Churches need skilled persons in these areas. Perhaps we could help the more gifted persons in training them, and then hiring them for this work. Priests, starting in seminaries, and persons in religious life need proper training. The media and communication are a powerful means to consolidate communion. They greater unite the Churches of the Middle East and the world. We hope that Telepace and KTO and other Catholic media will use Arabic sub-titles in their broadcasts and dedicate air-time for broadcasting programmes in Arabic. Such action would also consolidate inter-religious relations. We must establish plans and the means to communicate the results of this Synod and to put into practice its directives and recommendations.
B. THE LITURGY, SOURCE AND SUMMIT OF COMMUNION AND WITNESS
The liturgy is a proclamation and an important wtiness of a Church which prays and not only acts. It "is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time, it is the font from which all her power flows."
(Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10). In our Eastern Churches, the Divine Liturgy is the centre of religious life. It has an important part in safeguarding a Christian identity, in strengthening membership in the Church and in animating the life of faith. We must preserve and cultivate the sense of the sacred, of symbols and of popular religiosity which needs to be purified and deepened. Attention needs to be given to the cleanliness and the dignity of holy places, vestments, vessels and holy books. Muslims also have a keen sense of the sacred. Little has been said about the renewal of the liturgy, although it is desired by many. It will be necessary to know how to unite the “old and the new” (Mt 13:52). Tradition is dynamic, tending to move towards perfection in harmony with the new demands of the development of the community (cf. Pope Benedict XVI). Religious communities and movements are called to a true inculturation in the liturgy of the country where they carry out their mission. It was also said that the Latin Church should limit itself to the celebration of the liturgy in Arabic for its Arabic-speaking faithful. It is important and urgent to agree on a unified Arabic text for the Lord’s Prayer for use in the liturgy, meetings and private and public prayer.
C. RELATIONS WITH JUDAISM
1. Vatican II: The Theological Basis for Relations with Judaism
The Declaration Nostra aetate of the Second Vatican Council specifically treats the relations between the Church and the non-Christian religions. Judaism has a special place in this document.
2. The Present-Day Magisterium of the Church
Initiatives for dialogue take place at the level of the Holy See and the local Churches. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict affects relations between Christians and Jews. Repeatedly, the Holy See has clearly expressed its position, appealing for both peoples to be able to live in peace, each in its own homeland, with secure and internationally recognised borders. A lasting security is based on mutual trust and is fostered by justice and integrity. We have the duty to remind everyone that living together peaceably is the fruit of an authentic recognition and practice of each one’s rights and duties. Prayer for peace is of major importance.
3. Dialogue with Judaism
Our Churches reject anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism. The difficulties in relations between the Arab and the Jewish peoples is a result of the situation of political conflict. We distinguish between the religious and political realities. Christians have the mission to be artisans of reconciliation and peace, based on justice for both sides. Local pastoral initiatives of dialogue with Judaism are presently taking place, such as, praying in common, particularly the Psalms, and reading and meditation upon biblical texts. These initiatives create a willingness to make concrete efforts, together calling for peace, reconciliation, mutual pardon and good relations. Other initiatives are being made for a dialogue of the faithful of the children of the three Abrahamic religions.
The Vicariate for Hebrew-speaking Christians must help Hebrew society better know and understand the Church and her teachings. It was established for collaboration in the pastoral service of Hebrew-speaking Catholics and emigrants. This will lead to a peaceful Christian presence in the Holy Land. The misinterpretation of certain verses of the Bible justifies and even fosters violence. The reading of the Old Testament and a greater appreciation for Jewish traditions assist in better understanding the Jewish religion. They offer a common ground for serious study and an aid in better understanding the New Testament and eastern traditions. Other possibilities for collaboration present themselves in the current situation. Dialogue is necessary also at the academic level. Thus, there is need for contact and collaboration among institutes of formation. Catholic schools have an essential role in formation leading to mutual respect and peace.
D. RELATIONS WITH MUSLIMS
The Declaration Nostra aetate of the Second Vatican Council also provides the basis for the Catholic Church’s relations with Muslims. The document reads: “The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men” (No. 3). After the Council, numerous meetings have taken place among representatives of the two religions. At the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI declared: “Inter-religious and intercultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims cannot be reduced to a temporary choice. It is indeed a vital necessity on which a large part of our future depends” (Benedict XVI, Meeting with representatives of Muslim Communities, Cologne, 20 August 2005).
The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue holds meetings of dialogue of major importance. We recommend the creation of local commissions of interreligious dialogue. A primary place needs to be given to the dialogue of life, which gives an eloquent, silent testimony and is sometimes the only means to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Only Christians who offer the testimony of an authentic faith are qualified as credible participants in interreligious dialogue. We need to educate our faithful for this dialogue. Eastern Christians can help those of the West to enter more profoundly into a constructive encounter with Islam.
There are many reasons for fostering relations between Christians and Muslims: all are fellow citizens, all share the same language and the same culture, not to mention the same joys and sufferings. Moreover, Christians are called to live as witnesses of Christ in their societies. From the beginning, Islam has had common roots with Christianity and Judaism. Arabic-Christian literature must be better appreciated and used as a resource in the dialogue with Muslims.
Our closeness to Muslims is strengthened by 14 centuries of living together, in enduring difficult moments as well as many positive ones. For a fruitful dialogue, Christians and Muslims must know one another better. Muslims and Christians share the essence of the 5 pillars of the Islam. Several examples of promising, successful initiatives have been mentioned in the area of dialogue and work in common among Christians and Muslims in Syria, Lebanon, the Holy Land, Egypt and elsewhere. Common activities are to be encouraged in the areas of culture, sport, social and educational work.
Hence the essential importance of our educational institutions, which are open to all, effectively providing an education in friendship, justice and peace. The ecclesial movements also make a very valid contribution in this area. The Loving God loves Muslims. Maybe it is necessary to find a new theological language to express this mystery and make it more accessible to them. In this regard, our testimony of life will be a powerful help. Hence the essential importance of the dialogue of life or the dialogue of the neighborhood ‘hiwar aljiwar’.
Dialogue with Muslims has often been mentioned, recommended and encouraged. Dialogue expresses the communion of the children of God. We are all inhabitants of the same earth, the same house of God. It has even been asserted: no peace without dialogue with the Muslims. Saint Francis of Assisi, in his meeting with King Al-Kamel in Egypt in 1219 gives us an example of dialogue through nonviolence and the dialogue of life. The Eastern Churches are the most qualified to promote interreligious dialogue with Islam. This duty is theirs because of their history, their presence and their mission. Contact with Muslims can bring Christians to a better appreciation of their faith by deepening and purifying it. Holiness of life is a mutually appreciated on both sides. A true relationship with God does not need noisy religiosity, but authentic holiness. Profoundly religious persons are an object of respect and veneration, a common reference point and the conscience of the society. The relationship with Islam postulates a profound spiritual life. If we are not open to God, how we can be open to people?
We have the duty to educate our faithful for interreligious dialogue and in the acceptance of religious diversity, in respect and in mutual esteem. The prejudices inherited from the history of conflicts and controversies, on both sides, must be carefully faced, clarified and corrected. In dialogue, encounter, acceptance of the difference of the other, free access, confidence, mutual understanding, reconciliation, peace and love are important. Dialogue is beneficial in the service of peace, in favor of life and against violence. Dialogue is the path of nonviolence. Love is more necessary and effective than discussion. We must not argue with Muslims but love them, hoping to elicit reciprocity from their hearts. Before disputing about what separates us, let us meet on what unites us, especially as regards human dignity and the construction of a better world. It is necessary to avoid any provocative, offensive, humiliating action and any anti-Islamic attitude.
To be authentic, dialogue must take place in truth. Dialogue is a testimony in truth and love. It is necessary to speak frankly about the truth, the problems and the difficulties, in a respectful and charitable way. If dialogue is inescapable and must continue, maybe it must enter a new phase of frankness, honesty and openness. This is all the more necessary as the Islamic announcement (da'wa) is more and more active in the West. We have to explain to one another our different visions of the truth. We have to treat serenely and objectively the subjects which concern the identity of man, justice, the values of a worthy social life and of reciprocity. This term of reciprocity needs to be clarified, according to some interventions. We have to consider also that the Muslims have various currents of teaching and of action.
There are the fundamentalists, the peaceful traditionalists - the majority - who hold Islam as the faith and the supreme standard and have no problem in living serenely with non-Muslims, and the moderates open to others, who are rather an elite. It has been suggested that we not limit ourselves to the present moderate currents of the Islam, but that it is necessary to have contact with the fundamentalists and the extremists, who affect profoundly the masses.
Religious freedom is fundamental to healthy relations between Muslims and Christians. It should be a main theme in interreligious dialogue. We would wish that the Koranic principle "no constraint in religion" should really be put into practice. Some synod fathers spoke about the constraints, about the limits to freedom, about acts of violence and the exploitation of migrant workers in some countries. No one quoted the Koranic verses on which the extremists base themselves to justify their attitude and acts of violence. This shows the praiseworthy attitude of the Pastors to see what unites and calms rather than what separates. In the dialogue with Muslims, it will be necessary to study a rereading of the hadiths which purportedly incite to violence, connected to a past historic context, and replaced by the current context of respect for human rights.
We all have to work together to transform sectarian mind-sets and attitudes into the spirit of life and action for the common good. It is a long-term task, in view of the fact that confessionalism has deep structural roots, which go back to dhimmi-status and the millet system. Dialogue will prevent the attitude of distrust and fear of one another.
Christians will have to put down roots into their societies asnd not succumb to the temptation of turning in upon themselves as a minority. They have to work together for the promotion of justice, peace, freedom, human rights, the environment and the values of life and the family. Socio-political problems are to be addressed, not as rights to be demanded for Christians, but as universal rights that Christians and Muslims defend together for the good of all. We have to exit from the logic of defending the rights of Christians, to engage ourselves for the good of all. The young people will have it at heart to undertake concerted actions from these perspectives, to cooperate together with people of good will, to face the urgent problems of the moment: freedom, equality, democracy, human rights, emigration and immigration, the consequences of globalisation, the economic crisis, violence and extremism and life.
It is necessary to eliminate prejudicial statements against others from school textbooks, and all that is offensive or misrepresents others. We shall try rather to understand the point of view of the other, while respecting different beliefs and practices. We shall emphasize what we have in common, in particular on the spiritual and moral level. The Holy Virgin Mary is a meeting point of great importance. The recent declaration of the Annunciation as a national holiday in Lebanon is an encouraging example. Religion is a builder of unity and harmony and an expression of communion among persons and with God.
E. CONSTRUCTING TOGETHER A CITY OF COMMUNION
In our countries, all citizens must together face two major challenges: the need for peace and the reality of violence. The situations of wars and conflicts in which we live generate violence. They are exploited by international terrorism, and also by extremist currents and movements in our region. The West tends to be identified with Christianity and the choices of States are often attributed to the Church. In reality, however, the governments of the West are secular and increasingly opposed to the Christian faith. It is important to explain this reality as well as the positive significance of the secular state, which distinguishes politics from religion. Within this context Christians have an obligation and a mission to live out Gospel values.
Our Christian lay people must be offered the formation they need in order to deepen and strengthen their sense of a Christian calling. The Church is called to serve. Bearing testimony is not a way of bypassing explicit proclamation, nor can it be reduced to merely setting a good example. To give testimony is to live in the truth. From this arises the imperative of living an authentic Christian life. It is by our lives that we must testify constantly, without syncretism or relativism, but with humility, respect, sincerity, and love. "Physician, heal yourself!" (Lk 4:23). First we must heal ourselves; then we shall be able to reflect the light of Christ.
Our most important testimony in society is a freely given love for others. The Catholic Church gives an eloquent, extremely valuable witness by her numerous works and educational, charitable, sanitary and social development institutions. These are valued and frequented by all citizens, regardless of religion or background. They greatly contribute to breaking down walls of suspicion and rejection. The Church makes a preferential option to serve the poorest of the poor. The more conscious we are of our Christian vocation in society, the better equipped we shall be to manifest and radiate the power of the Gospel, which has force, even today, to transform human society. The Apostolic Exhortation of the Venerable Servant of God, Pope John Paul II, A New Hope for Lebanon (10 May 1997), offers concrete guidance for Christian testimony in civic life. We should endeavour to appreciate its message to the full and live out of it, especially in Lebanon.
Whether we are Muslims or Christians, we must pursue a common path together. Although we differ in our understanding of man, of his rights and freedoms, we can together find a clear, definite foundation for joint action, for the good of our societies and our countries. The universal principles of human rights are most likely to provide us with common ground for peaceful study and shared activity. We shall be able to engage in fruitful dialogue with any individual who advocates the defense of human rights and an ethics based on the values of human nature, of the family, of life and of civic state. Let us encourage this tendency among moderate and sincere people. All of us have a reciprocal responsibility to promote the good of others. Let us build a City of Communion together!
*In the small groups it will be necessary to deal in more depth with themes which have received little treatment so far: Catechetical methodology; liturgical renewal; modernity; the specific, irreplaceable contribution of Christians; the future of Christians in the Middle East.
CONCLUSION: WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR CHRISTIANS IN THE MIDDLE EAST? “Do not be afraid, O little flock!” (Lk 12:32)
Present-day situations give rise to difficulties and concerns. Empowered by the Holy Spirit and guided by the Gospels, we face them with hope and filial trust in Divine Providence. Today, we are a “little flock”. However, our actions and witness can ensure a significant presence. We must seriously consider our vocation and call to give testimony in service to humanity, society and our countries. Together we must work to prepare a new dawn for the Middle East. We are strengthened by the prayers, understanding and love of our brothers and sisters around the world. We are not alone. This synod has made that very clear, as we were told by the representative of the Bishops’ Conference of Oceania.
We want our brothers and sisters in the Middle East to know that we value our communion with them, that we are committed to solidarity with their hopes and sufferings, and that we shall assist them with prayers and practical assistance in the challenges they face today.
Furthermore, our faith teaches us that the Lord himself walks alongside us. His promise is always timely: “I am with you always, even to the end of time” (Mt 28:20). God is the Lord of History (cf. Pope Benedict XVI, Homily at the Opening Mass, 10 October 2010). Now, as the Synod will soon be finished, our true work begins. It consists in making known and passing on all that the Synod has given us, in implementing its directives and recommendations through appropriate structures, and in carefully following up this work in coordinated pastoral activity. In this way, we shall reap abundant fruit as a result of the power of the Holy Spirit. We have great hopes. “And hope does not let us down, for the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given us” (Rm 5:2-5).
“Do not fear, little flock!”, says the Lord. To respond to his words, we need more faith, more communion and more love. From this will come grace, strength, peace, joy, numerous vocations—and holiness. Let us ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, so greatly loved and honoured in our Churches, to model our hearts after that of her Son, Jesus. And let us heed her words: “Do whatever he tells you!” (Jn 2:5).
1. How can we recover what is essential to the Word of God, i.e. its capacity to get inside people’s existence to bring about a change in their lives leading to greater and more fruitful commitment? How can a regular encounter with the Word of God help to enhance Christians in their Being and Acting? The Word of God is an inexhaustible source of communion and of openness. How is it read and deepened within the Church so as to bring about communion, dialogue and of development of ecclesial community and of the world?
2. Sometimes the Old Testament is interpreted in a tendentious and biased fashion. How,in our current context, can we rediscover the wealth of the Old Testament in the light of the unity of the two testaments in Christ?
3. Our Churches are sometimes faced with situations of persecution even leading to martyrdom. What is our attitude to these situations today?
4. In the beginning, the Churches of the East were missionary Churches par excellence. Nowadays, this missionary spirit has weakened. How can we reawaken the missionary spirit in our Churches for a new evangelisation within each Church and at the service of the universal Church, in order to keep the spirit of the Gospel by reviving the faith of Christians and keeping the “memory of origins” alive.
5. For an effective and evangelical pastoral practice, what structures should be put in place to form pastoral workers who are creative managers and who can at once listen, offer a lead, give direction, support, show compassion and outline proposals?
6. Giving new dynamism to Christian communities in a world in which they are a minority means helping them to return to the spirit of the Gospel, fortifying the faith and spirituality of our faithful and forging again the social bond and the solidarity between them but without succumbing to a ghetto mentality. What ecclesial structures and pastoral practice would help to strengthen a sense of spiritual and social belonging.
7. Between inculturation and fusion, does the Church ever find herself tainted by the politics and conflicts which are tearing apart the world around her? What strategies might help her remain a reference point of openness and evangelical dialogue? How are we to act in a multicultural world where freedom of expression sometimes depends on clan, on confession or on traditions which are incompatible with the Gospel? How should we equip young people to take part in a true dialogue which is neither fusion nor confusion but the expression of a true sharing and an evangelical desire to welcome, to be open and to love for the sake of truth and unity?
8. Faced with the fact of emigration, how could we help our faithful to live out their own ecclesial identity in close collaboration with the local Church of the host countries so as always to show unity in diversity?
9. When it comes to the pastoral demands of emigration, what factors should be borne in mind in the training of future ministers in our seminaries and theology faculties?
10. Our countries in the Middle East increasingly welcome immigrants for economic reasons. How can our Churches help to ensure that their fundamental human rights are respected and offer them suitably adapted pastoral accompaniment?
11. Given the ecclesial reality in the countries of the Gulf, how can we work together to set up better pastoral collaboration between the Eastern Catholic Churches and the Roman Catholic Church?
12. Undeniably, the East is facing a vocations crisis compared to the abundance of the recent past. Vocations in the Church are the work of the Holy Spirit for the whole Church. What pastoral work in vocations promotion do we undertake, particularly for young people, which can touch their hearts, enabling them to dare to follow Christ generously and without fear? Faced with the shortage of priests in some places, how can we live a priestly ecclesial communion better able tocater for the needs of these Churches?
13. How does the particular identity and vocation of our Eastern Catholic Churches look to you in the light of the Second Vatican Council and of the ecumenical dialogue currently in progress?
14. How can we rediscover the correct sense of the Church as a mystery of communion to facilitate an evangelical presence and witness in the Middle East?
15. What should we do to prevent a real slide taking place whereby the Church’s undertakings become based solely on ethnic, cultural or political factors?
16. Our Churches are increasingly welcoming new apostolic movements and movements of Christian initiation. How can we ensure their harmonious integration into the pastoral reality of our Eastern Churches whilst respecting their particular charism?
17. Harking back to our shared roots in the experience of the Church of Jerusalem, can we find there an effective means to bring about the unity of which Christ speaks in His priestly prayer? What strategy would be necessary to attain it?
18. The situation of Christians in the Middle East is complex and often confusing. This is as true of the politico-cultural level as it is of the ecumenical and interreligious dimension. How, as Christians, can we approach others, in the footsteps of Christ, regardless of historical divergences of thought or ideology, so as to meet people, children of God just like us and, consequently, brothers and persons worthy of our respect and our esteem?
19. What measures can our Churches take in the area of the new means of communication to promote shared witness and evangelisation in an ecumenical and interreligious environment?
20. Pope Benedict XVI has just created a dicastery for the new evangelisation of countries with a long Christian tradition. Are our apostolic Churches in the Middle East aware of the interest of a New Evangelisation which can answer the problems of contemporary men and women?
21. The Church is used to a positive dialogue with moderate Muslims for the common good. Given the considerable impact of fundamentalist currents in Islam on the course of events, what should our attitude be to such currents?
22. In the tradition of the Eastern Church, the liturgy is the privileged expression of Christian faith and action (lexorandi, lexcredendi, lex vivendi). How can we adapt our ancient liturgical traditions, marked as they are by the vigour of the Bible and the Fathers of the Church, to the needs of man today?
23. Often religious instruction ceases when people leave school. Adults need solid faith formation to infuse their personal, family and professional lives. What can our Churches do to provide such formation? Should we work together for all our Catholic Churches of the Middle East to put together a basic catechetical plan for adults?
On the Synod of the New Evangelization
"The Church Exists to Evangelize"
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 24, 2010 - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today before praying the midday Angelus with those gathered in St. Peter's Square. Before the Angelus the Pope had presided at the closing Mass of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops.
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Dear brothers and sisters!
With the solemn celebration this morning in the Vatican Basilica the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops came to its conclusion. The theme of the meeting was "The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness." This Sunday is also World Mission Sunday, whose theme this year is "The Building of Ecclesial Communion is the Key to Mission." The similarity between these themes is evident. Both invite us to look upon the Church as a mystery of communion that, by its nature, is destined for the whole person, and to all people. The Servant of God Paul VI thus stated: "The Church exists to evangelize, that is to say, to preach and to teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, to perpetuate the sacrifice of Christ in the Holy Mass, which is the memorial of his death and of his glorious resurrection" (Apostolic Exhortation "Evangelii nuntiandi," Dec. 8, 1975, 14: AAS 68, , p. 13).
For this reason, the next Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, in 2012, will be dedicated to the theme "The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith." In every time and in every place -- even today in the Middle East -- the Church is present and works to gather together all men and offer them to Christ, the fullness of life. As the Italian-German theologian Romano Guardini wrote: "The reality of the 'Church' implies the fullness of being Christian, which develops through history, insofar as the Church embraces the fullness of human reality which is in relation with God" ("Formazione liturgica," Brescia 2008, pp. 106-107).
Dear friends, in today's liturgy we read about the testimony of St. Paul in regard to the final reward that the Lord will give "to all those who awaited his manifestation with love" (2 Timothy 4:8). This is not an inactive or solitary waiting, on the contrary! The Apostle lived in communion with the risen Christ to "bring the proclamation of the Gospel to completion" so that "all nations shall hear it" (2 Timothy 4:17). The missionary task is not to bring about revolution in the world but to transfigure it, drawing power from Jesus Christ who "convokes us at the table of his Word and Eucharist, to taste the gift of his Presence, to form ourselves in his school and live more and more consciously united to him, Master and Lord" ("Message for the 84th World Missionary Day").
Even the Christians of today -- as it is written in the "Letter to Diognetus" -- "show how marvelous and … extraordinary their life together is. They live on earth but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the established laws but go beyond the laws in their way of life. ... They are condemned to death and from it draw life. Although they do good, they are … persecuted and grow in number every day" (V, 188.8.131.52; VI, 9 [SC 33], Paris 1951, 62-66).
To the Virgin Mary, who from Jesus crucified received the new mission of being the Mother of all those who want to believe in him and follow him, we entrust the Christian communities in the Middle East and all the missionaries of the Gospel.
[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
[After the Angelus the Holy Father greeted the pilgrims in various languages. In English, he said:]
To the English-speaking pilgrims gathered for this Angelus prayer I offer warm greetings. We give thanks to God for the blessings received during the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, which concluded this morning in St. Peter's Basilica. We also celebrate today World Mission Sunday, which reminds us that ecclesial communion is the key to our task of proclaiming the Gospel. Entrusting this mission to the intercession of our Mother Mary, I invoke upon you and your families God's abundant blessings.
© Copyright 2010 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[In Italian, he said:]
I am happy to announce that yesterday, in Vercelli, Sister Alfonsa Clerici was beatified. Sister Alfonsa belonged to the Congregation of the Most Precious Blood of Monza. She was born in Lainate, near Milan, in 1860, and died at Vercelli in 1930. Let us thank God for this sister of ours, whom he guided to perfect charity.
[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
Pope's Homily at Closing Mass of Mideast Synod
"We Must Never Resign Ourselves to the Absence of Peace"
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 24, 2010 - Here is the homily delivered today in St. Peter's Basilica at the solemn closing of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops. The theme of the two-week synod was: "The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness." The Gospel phrase under consideration was: "Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul" (Acts 4:32).
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Illustrious Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear brothers and sisters,
Two weeks on from the opening Celebration, we are gathered once again on the Lord’s day, at the Altar of the Confession in St. Peter’s Basilica, to conclude the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops. In our hearts is a deep gratitude towards God who has afforded us this truly extraordinary experience, not just for us, but for the good of the Church, for the People of God who live in the lands between the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia. As Bishop of Rome, I would like to pass on this gratitude to you, Venerable Synod Fathers: Cardinals, Patriarchs, Archbishops, Bishops. I wish to especially thank the Secretary General, the four Presidents Delegate, the Relator General, the Special Secretary and all the collaborators, who have worked tirelessly in these days. This morning we left the Synod Hall and came to “the temple to pray”: in this, we are touched directly by the parable of the pharisee and the publican, told by Jesus and recounted by the evangelist St Luke (cf. 18:9-14). We too may be tempted, like the pharisee, to tell God of our merits, perhaps thinking of our work during these days. However, to rise up to Heaven, prayer must emanate from a poor, humble heart. And therefore we too, at the conclusion of this ecclesial event, wish to first and foremost give thanks to God, not for our merits, but for the gift that He has given us. We recognize ourselves as small and in need of salvation, of mercy; we recognize all that comes from Him and that only with his Grace we may realize what the Holy Spirit told us. Only in this manner may we “return home” truly enriched, made more just and more able to walk in the path of the Lord.
The First Reading and the responsorial Psalm stress the theme of prayer, emphasizing that it is much more powerful to God’s heart when those who pray are in a condition of need and are afflicted. “The prayer of the humble pierces the clouds” affirms Ecclesiasticus (35:21); and the Psalmist adds: “Yahweh is near to the broken-hearted, he helps those whose spirit is crushed” (34:18). Our thoughts go to our numerous brothers and sisters who live in the region of the Middle East and who find themselves in trying situations, at times very burdensome, both for the material poverty and for the discouragement, the state of tension and at times of fear. Today the Word of God also offers us a light of consoling hope, there where He presents prayer, personified, that “until he has eliminated the hordes of the arrogant and broken the sceptres of the wicked, until he has repaid all people as their deeds deserve and human actions as their intentions merit” (Ecc 35:21-22). This link too, between prayer and justice makes us think of many situations in the world, particularly in the Middle East. The cry of the poor and of the oppressed finds an immediate echo in God, who desires to intervene to open up a way out, to restore a future of freedom, a horizon of hope.
This faith in God who is near, who frees his friends, is what the Apostle Paul witnesses to in today’s epistle, in the Second Letter to Timothy. Realizing that the end of his earthly life was near, Paul makes an assessment: “I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith” (2 Tm 4:7). For each one of us, dear brothers in the episcopacy, this is a model to imitate: May Divine Goodness allow us to make a similar judgment of ourselves! St Paul continues, “the Lord stood by me and gave me power, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed for all the gentiles to hear” (2 Tm 4:17). It is a word which resounds with particular strength on this Sunday in which we celebrate World Mission Day! Communion with Jesus crucified and risen, witness of his love. The Apostle’s experience is a model for every Christian, especially for us Shepherds. We have shared a powerful moment of ecclesial communion. We now leave each other so that each may return to his own mission, but we know that we remain united, we remain in his love.
The Synodal Assembly which concludes today has always kept in mind the icon of the first Christian community, described in the Acts of the Apostles: “The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul” (Acts 4:32). It is a reality that we experienced in these past days, in which we have shared the joys and the pains, the concerns and the hopes of Christians in the Middle East. We experienced the unity of the Church in the variety of Churches present in that region. Led by the Holy Spirit, we became “united, heart and soul” in faith, in hope, and in charity, most of all during Eucharistic celebrations, source and summit of ecclesial communion, and in the Liturgy of the Hours as well, celebrated every morning according to one of the seven Catholic rites of the Middle East. We have thus enhanced the liturgical, spiritual and theological wealth of the Eastern Catholic Churches, as well as of the Latin Church. It involved an exchange of precious gifts, from which all the Synodal Fathers benefitted. It is hoped that this positive experience repeats itself in the respective communities of the Middle East, encouraging the participation of the faithful in liturgical celebrations of other Catholic rites, thus opening themselves to the dimensions of the Universal Church.
Common prayer helped us to face the challenges of the Catholic Church in the Middle East as well. One of these is communion within each sui iuris Church, as well as in the relationships between the various Catholic Churches of different traditions. As today’s Gospel reminded us (cf Lk 18:9-14), we need humility, in order to recognize our limitations, our errors and omissions, in order to be able to truly be “united, heart and soul”. A fuller communion within the Catholic Church favors ecumenical dialogue with other Churches and ecclesial communities as well. The Catholic Church reiterated in this Synodal meeting its deep conviction to pursuing such dialogue as well, so that the prayer of the Lord Jesus might be completely fulfilled: “May they all be one” (Jn 17:21).
The words of the Lord Jesus may be applied to Christians in the Middle East: “There is no need to be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:32). Indeed, even if they are few, they are bearers of the Good News of the love of God for man, love which revealed itself in the Holy Land in the person of Jesus Christ. This Word of salvation, strengthened with the grace of the Sacraments, resounds with particular potency in the places in which, by Divine Providence, it was written, and it is the only Word which is able to break that vicious circle of vengeance, hate, and violence. From a purified heart, in peace with God and neighbor, may intentions and initiatives for peace at local, national, and international levels be born. In these actions, to whose accomplishment the whole international community is called, Christians as full-fledged citizens can and must do their part with the spirit of the Beatitudes, becoming builders of peace and apostles of reconciliation to the benefit of all society.
Conflicts, wars, violence and terrorism have gone on for too long in the Middle East. Peace, which is a gift of God, is also the result of the efforts of men of goodwill, of the national and international institutions, in particular of the states most involved in the search for a solution to conflicts. We must never resign ourselves to the absence of peace. Peace is possible. Peace is urgent. Peace is the indispensable condition for a life of dignity for human beings and society. Peace is also the best remedy to avoid emigration from the Middle East. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” we are told in the Psalm (122:6). We pray for peace in the Holy Land. We pray for peace in the Middle East, undertaking to try to ensure that this gift of God to men of goodwill should spread through the whole world.
Another contribution that Christians can bring to society is the promotion of an authentic freedom of religion and conscience, one of the fundamental human rights that each state should always respect. In numerous countries of the Middle East there exists freedom of belief, while the space given to the freedom to practice religion is often quite limited. Increasing this space of freedom becomes essential to guarantee to all the members of the various religious communities the true freedom to live and profess their faith. This topic could become the subject of dialogue between Christians and Muslims, a dialogue whose urgency and usefulness was reiterated by the Synodal Fathers. During the work of the Synod what was often underlined was the need to offer the Gospel anew to people who do not know it very well or who have even moved away from the Church. What was often evoked was the need for a new evangelization for the Middle East as well. This was quite a widespread theme, especially in the countries where Christianity has ancient roots. The recent creation of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization also responds to this profound need. For this reason, after having consulted the episcopacy of the whole world and after having listened to the Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, I have decided to dedicate the next Ordinary General Assembly, in 2012, to the following theme: “Nova evangelizatio ad christianam fidem tradendam - The new evangelization for the transmission of the Christian faith”.
Dear brothers and sisters of the Middle East! May the experience of these days assure you that you are never alone, that you are always accompanied by the Holy See and the whole Church, which, having been born in Jerusalem, spread through the Middle East and then the rest of the world. We entrust the results of the Special Assembly for the Middle East, as well as the preparation for the Ordinary General Assembly, to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church and Queen of Peace. Amen.
© Copyright 2010 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
Mideast Synod's Concluding Statement
"An Appeal to Safeguard the Faith"
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 24, 2010 - Here is the Vatican translation of the Message to the People of God that the synod fathers of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops approved Friday. The original text was written in Arabic, French, Italian and English. The two-week synod ended today in Rome.
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"Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul" (Acts 4:32)
To our brother priests, deacons, monks, nuns, consecrated persons, our dear lay faithful and all people of good will.
1. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you.
The Synod of Bishops for the Middle East was for us a new Pentecost. “Pentecost is the original event but also a permanent dynamism, and the Synod of Bishops is a privileged moment in which the grace of Pentecost may be renewed in the Church’s journey” (Pope Benedict XVI, Homily at the Opening Liturgy, 10 October 2010).
We have come to Rome, We the Patriarchs and Bishops of the Catholic Churches in the Middle East with all our spiritual, liturgical, cultural and canonical patrimonies, carrying in our hearts the concerns of our people.
For the very first time, we have come together in a Synod, gathered around His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, with both cardinals and archbishops, who are heads of the various offices in the Roman Curia, presidents of episcopal conferences around the world, who are concerned with the issues of the Middle East, representatives from the Orthodox Churches and ecclesial communities and Jewish and Muslim guests.
We express our gratitude to His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI for his care and for his teachings, which guide the journey of the Church in general and that of our Eastern Churches in particular, especially in the areas of justice and peace. We thank the episcopal conferences for their solidarity, their presence in our midst during their pilgrimages to the holy sites and their visits to our communities. We thank them for guiding our Churches in the various aspects of our life. We thank the different ecclesial organisations for their effective assistance.
Guided by the Holy Scriptures and the living Tradition, we have reflected together on the present and the future of Christians and all peoples of the Middle East. We have meditated on the issues of this region of the world which God willed, in the mystery of his love, to be the birthplace of his universal plan of salvation. From there, Abraham’s vocation was initiated. There, the Word of God, Jesus Christ, took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. There, Jesus proclaimed the Gospel of life and the kingdom. There, he died to redeem humanity and free us from sin. There, he rose from the dead to give new life to all. There, the Church was formed and went forth to proclaim the Gospel of Christ to the world.
The primary aim of the Synod is pastoral. Thus, we have carried in our hearts the life, the pains and the hopes of our people as well as the challenges they need to confront each day “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rm 5:5). Dear sisters and brothers, we therefore address this message to you. We wish it to be an appeal to safeguard the faith, based on the Word of God, to collaboration in unity and to communion in the witness of love in every aspect of life.
I. The Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness throughout History
The Journey of Faith in the Middle East
2. In the Middle East, the first Christian community was born. From there, the apostles after Pentecost went evangelising the whole world. There, the early Christian community lived amid tensions and persecutions, “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42), and no one of them was in need. There, the first martyrs, with their blood, fortified the foundations of the nascent Church. After them, the hermits filled the deserts with the perfume of their holiness and their faith. There, the Fathers of the Eastern Church lived and continued to nourish the Church in both the East and West through their teachings. In the early centuries and later, missionaries from our Churches departed for the Far East and the West, bringing with them the light of Christ. We are the heirs of that heritage. We need to continue to transmit their message to future generations.
In the past, Our Churches provided saints, priests and consecrated persons; they still do in the present. Our Churches have also sponsored many institutions which contributed - and still do - to the well being of our societies and countries, sacrificing self for the sake of the human person, who is created to the image of God and is the bearer of his likeness. Some of our Churches continue to send out missionaries who carry the Word of God to many places in the world. The pastoral, apostolic and missionary needs mandate us to put together a pastoral master-plan to promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life in order to ensure the Church of tomorrow.
We are now at a turning point in our history: The God who has given us the faith in our Eastern lands 2000 years ago, calls us today to persevere with courage, strength and steadfastness in bearing the message of Christ and witnessing to his Gospel, the Gospel of love and peace.
Challenges and Aspirations
3.1. Today, we face many challenges. The first comes from within ourselves and our Churches. We are asked by Christ to accept our faith and to apply it to all situations in our lives. What he asks from our Churches is to strengthen the communion within every Church sui iuris and that of the Catholic Churches of various traditions, and to exert every effort in prayer and charitable acts in order to attain the full unity of all Christians so as to fulfil the prayer of Christ: “that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (Jn 17:21).
3.2. The second challenge comes from the outside, namely, political conditions, security in our countries and religious pluralism.
We have evaluated the social situation and the public security in all our countries in the Middle East. We have taken account of the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the whole region, especially on the Palestinians who are suffering the consequences of the Israeli occupation: the lack of freedom of movement, the wall of separation and the military checkpoints, the political prisoners, the demolition of homes, the disturbance of socio-economic life and the thousands of refugees. We have reflected on the suffering and insecurity in which Israelis live. We have meditated on the situation of the holy city of Jerusalem. We are anxious about the unilateral initiatives that threaten its composition and risk to change its demographic balance. With all this in mind, we see that a just and lasting peace is the only salvation for everyone and for the good of the region and its peoples.
3.3. We have reflected in our meetings and in our prayers the keen sufferings of the Iraqi people. We have recalled the Christians assassinated in Iraq, the continued suffering of the Church in Iraq and her sons who have been displaced and dispersed throughout the world, bringing with them the concerns for their land and their fatherland. The synod fathers have expressed their solidarity with the people and the Churches in Iraq and have expressed their desire that the emigrants, forced to leave their country, might find in the welcoming countries the necessary support to be able to return to their homeland and live in security.
3.4. We have extensively treated relations between Christians and Muslims. All of us share a common citizenship in our countries. Here we want to affirm, according to our Christian vision, a fundamental principle which ought to govern our relations, namely, God wants us to be Christians in and for our Middle Eastern societies. This is God’s plan for us. This is our mission and vocation - to live as Christians and Muslims together. Our actions in this area will be guided by the commandment of love and by the power of the Spirit within us.
The second principle which governs our relations is the fact that we are an integral part of our societies. Our mission, based on our faith and our duty to our home countries, obliges us to contribute to the construction of our countries as fellow-citizens, Muslims, Jews and Christians alike.
II. Communion and Witness Within the Catholic Churches of the Middle East
To the Faithful of Our Churches
4.1. Jesus says to us: “You are the salt of the earth, the light of the world” (Mt 5:13.14). Your mission in our societies, beloved faithful, through faith, hope and love, is to be like “salt” which gives savour and meaning to life; to be like “light” by proclaiming the truth which scatters the darkness; and to be like the “leaven” which transforms hearts and minds. The first Christians of Jerusalem were few in number, yet they were able to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth because of the grace of “the Lord who acted with them and confirmed their Word by signs” (Mk 16:20).
4.2. We want to greet you, Christians of the Middle East, and we thank you for all you have achieved in your families and societies, in your Churches and nations. We commend you for your perseverance in times of adversity, suffering and anguish.
4.3. Dear priests, our co-workers in the mission of catechesis, liturgy and pastoral work, we renew our friendship and our trust in you. Continue to transmit to your faithful with zeal and perseverance the Gospel of life and Church’s tradition through your preaching, catechesis, spiritual direction and the good example of your lives. Build up the faith of the People of God to make of it a civilisation of love. Provide the sacraments to the People of God so that this People might aspire to be renewed. Gather them together in the union of love by the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Dear consecrated men and women in the world, we express to you our gratitude and with you we thank God for the gift of the evangelical counsels – of consecrated chastity, of poverty and obedience – through which you have made the gift of yourselves as you follow Christ, the special love to whom you long to witness. It is thanks to your diverse apostolic initiatives that you are the true treasure and wealth of our Churches and a spiritual oasis in our parishes, dioceses and missions.
We unite ourselves spiritually to hermits, to monks and nuns who have dedicated their lives to prayer in contemplative monasteries, sanctifying the hours of day and night, carrying the Church’s concerns and needs to God in their prayers. You offer the world a sign of hope through the witness of your life.
4.4. We express to you, faithful lay people, our esteem and our friendship. We appreciate everything you do for your families and societies, your Churches and home countries. Remain steadfast amidst trials and difficulties. We are filled with gratitude to the Lord for the charisms and talents which he has showered you and which equip you to participate, through the power of your baptism and chrismations, in the Church’s mission and her apostolic work to permeate the temporal world with the spirit and values of the Gospel. We invite you to give the witness of an authentic Christian life, of a conscientious religious practice and of good morals. Have the courage objectively to proclaim the truth.
Those of you who suffer in body, in soul and spirit, the oppressed, those forced from your homes, the persecuted, prisoners and detainees, we carry you all in our prayers. Unite your suffering to that of Christ the Redeemer and seek in his cross patience and strength. By the merit of your sufferings, you gain God’s merciful love.
We greet each of our Christian families and we look upon your vocation and mission with esteem as a living cell of society and a natural school of virtue and ethical and human values, the “domestic Church” which transmits the practices of prayer and of faith from one generation to the next. We thank parents and grandparents for the education of their children and grandchildren, who, like Jesus grow “in wisdom, in stature and grace in the sight of God and men” (Lk 2:52). We commit ourselves to the defence of the family through our pastoral programmes on its behalf, through marriage preparation courses and centres, open to all but mainly to couples in difficulty, where they can be welcomed and obtain counseling, and by defending the fundamental rights of the family.
We now wish to speak to the women of our Churches in a special way. We express to you our appreciation for what you are in the various states of life: girls, mothers, educators, consecrated women and those who engaged in public life. We revere you, because you harbour human life within you from its very beginnings, giving it care and tenderness. God has given you a special sensitivity for everything that pertains to education, humanitarian work and the apostolic life. We give thanks to God for your activities and we hope that you will be able to exercise greater responsibility in public life.
Young women and men, we look to you with the same love which Christ had for the young man in the Gospel (cf. Mk 10:21). You are the potential and renewing force for the future of our Churches, our communities and our countries. Plan your life under the loving gaze of Christ. Be responsible citizens and sincere believers. The Church joins you in your desire to find work commensurate with your talents, work which will help to stimulate your creativity, providing for your future and making possible the formation of a family of believers. Overcome the temptation of materialism and consumerism. Be strong in your Christian values.
We greet the heads of Catholic institutions of education. Pursue excellence and the Christian spirit in your teaching and education. Aim at the consolidation of a culture of harmonious living and concern for the poor and disabled. In spite of the challenges which confront your institutions, we invite you to maintain them, so as to further the Church’s educative mission and to promote the development and common good of our societies.
We address with great esteem those who work in the social sector. In your institutions you are at the service of charity. We encourage and support you in this mission of development, guided by the rich social teaching of the Church. Through your work, you strengthen the bonds of fellowship between people and serve the poor, the marginalised, the sick, refugees and prisoners without discrimination. You are guided by the words of the Lord Jesus: “Everything you do to one of these little ones, you do it to me!” (Mt 25:40).
We look with hope to prayer groups and apostolic movements. They are schools where our faith can mature and we can be given the strength to live that faith in family and society. We appreciate their activities in parishes and dioceses and their support for pastors, in accordance with the Church’s directives. We thank God for these groups and movements which are active cells in the parish and seed-beds for vocations to both the priesthood and the consecrated life.
We appreciate the role of the means of social communication, both printed and audio-visual. We thank you journalists for your collaboration with the Church in broadcasting her teachings and activities and, over the course of these days, for having given global news coverage to the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod.
We are pleased with the contribution of the media, both international and Catholic. With regard to the Middle East, Télé Lumiere-Noursat merits a special mention. We hope it will be able to continue its service of providing information and forming the faith, of working on behalf of Christian unity, of consolidating the Christian presence in the Middle East, of strengthening interreligious dialogue and the communion of all peoples of Middle Eastern origin, presently in every part of the globe.
To Our Faithful in the Diaspora
5. Emigration has become a generalised phenomenon by Christians, Muslims and Jews alike. All emigrate for reasons arising from political and economic instability. However, Christians also emigrate from a sense of insecurity, in varying degrees, in many Middle Eastern countries. May Christians have trust in the future and continue to live in their dear countries.
We send our greetings to you, members of our Churches in the various countries of the Diaspora. We ask you to keep alive in your hearts and concerns the memory of your countries and your Churches. You can contribute to their development and their growth by your prayers, your thoughts, your visits and by various other means, despite the fact that you are far from the Middle East.
Look at your goods and your properties in your home country; do not abandon and sell them too quickly. Keep them as your patrimony and as a piece of the homeland to which you remain attached, a homeland which you love and support. The land is part of a person's identity and his mission. It is a vital aspect of the lives of those who remain there and for those who one day will return there. The land is a public good, a good of the community and a common patrimony. It should not be reduced to a question of individual interests on the part of those who own it and who alone decide, according to their desires, to keep or abandon it.
We accompany you with our prayers, you the children of our Churches and of our countries, forced to emigrate. Bear with you your faith, your culture and your patrimony, so as to enrich your new countries which provide you with peace, freedom and work. Look towards the future with confidence and joy. Hold fast to your spiritual values, to your cultural traditions and to your national patrimony, in order to offer to the countries which welcome you the best of yourselves and the best of that which you have. We thank the Churches of the countries of the Diaspora which have received our faithful and unceasingly collaborate with us to ensure the necessary pastoral services for them.
To the Migrants in Our Countries and Our Churches
6. We send our greetings to all immigrants of varying nationalities, who have come to our countries seeking employment.
We welcome you, beloved faithful, and we see your faith as a source of enrichment and a support for the faithful of our Churches. We joyously provide you with every spiritual assistance you might need.
We ask our Churches to pay special attention to these brothers and sisters and their difficulties, whatever may be their religion, especially when their rights and dignity are subject to abuse. They come to us not simply to seek the means for living but offer the services which our countries need. Their dignity comes from God. Like every human person, they have rights which must be respected. No one should violate those rights. That is why we call upon the various governments which receive them to respect and defend their rights.
Communion and Witness Together with the Orthodox and Protestant Communities in the Middle East
7. We send our greetings to the Orthodox and Protestant Communities in our countries. Together we work for the good of all Christians, that they may remain, grow and prosper. We share the same journey. Our challenges are the same and our future is the same. We wish to bear witness together as disciples of Christ. Only through our unity can we accomplish the mission that God has entrusted to us, despite the differences among our Churches. The prayer of Christ is our support; the commandment of love unites us, even if the road towards full communion is still distant for us.
We have walked together in the Middle East Council of Churches and we wish, with God’s grace, to continue on this path and to promote its activity, having as an ultimate goal a common testimony to our faith, the service of our faithful and of all our countries. We acknowledge and encourage all initiatives for ecumenical dialogue in each of our countries.
We express our gratitude to the World Council of Churches and to the different ecumenical organisations which work for the unity of the Churches and for their support.
IV. Cooperation and Dialogue with Our Fellow-Citizens, the Jews
8. The same Scriptures unite us; the Old Testament, the Word of God is for both you and us. We believe all that God revealed there, since he called Abraham, our common father in the faith, Father of Jews, of Christians and of Muslims. We believe in the promises of God and his covenant given to Abraham and to you. We believe that the Word of God is eternal.
The Second Vatican Council published the document Nostra aetate which treats interreligious dialogue with Judaism, Islam and the other religions. Other documents have subsequently clarified and developed the relationship with Judaism. On-going dialogue is taking place between the Church and the representatives of Judaism. We hope that this dialogue can bring us to work together to press those in authority to put and end to the political conflict which results in separating us and disrupting everyday life in our countries.
It is time for us to commit ourselves together to a sincere, just and permanent peace. Both Christians and Jews are called to this task by the Word of God. In his Word, we are invited us to listen to the voice of God “who speaks of peace”: “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his holy ones” (Ps 85:9). Recourse to theological and biblical positions which use the Word of God to wrongly justify injustices is not acceptable. On the contrary, recourse to religion must lead every person to see the face of God in others and to treat them according to their God-given prerogatives and God’s commandments, namely, according to God's bountiful goodness, mercy, justice and love for us.
V. Cooperation and Dialogue with Our Fellow-Citizens, the Muslims
9. We are united by the faith in one God and by the commandment that says: do good and avoid evil. The words of the Second Vatican Council on the relations with other religions offer the basis for the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Muslims: “The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men” (Nostra aetate 3).
We say to our Muslim fellow-citizens: we are brothers and sisters; God wishes us to be together, united by one faith in God and by the dual commandment of love of God and neighbour. Together we will construct our civil societies on the basis of citizenship, religious freedom and freedom of conscience. Together we will work for the promotion of justice, peace, the rights of persons and the values of life and of the family. The construction of our countries is our common responsibility. We wish to offer to the East and to the West a model of coexistence between different religions and of positive collaboration between different civilisations for the good of our countries and that of all humanity.
Since the appearance of Islam in the seventh century and to the present, we have lived together and we have collaborated in the creation of our common civilisation. As in the past and still existent today, some imbalances are present in our relations. Through dialogue we must avoid all imbalances and misunderstandings. Pope Benedict XVI tells us that our dialogue must not be a passing reality. It is rather a vital necessity on which our future depends (Pope Benedict XVI, Meeting with Representatives from the Muslim Communities, Cologne, 20 August 2005). Our duty then is to educate believers concerning interreligious dialogue, the acceptance of pluralism and mutual esteem.
VI. Our Participation in Public Life: An Appeal to the Governments and to the Political Leadership in Our Countries
10. We appreciate the efforts which have been expended for the common good and the service to our societies. You are in our prayers and we ask God to guide your steps. We address you regarding the importance of equality among all citizens. Christians are original and authentic citizens who are loyal to their fatherland and assume their duties towards their country. It is natural that they should enjoy all the rights of citizenship, freedom of conscience, freedom of worship and freedom in education, teaching and the use of the mass media.
We appeal to you to redouble your efforts to establish a just and lasting peace throughout the region and to stop the arms race, which will lead to security and economic prosperity and stop the hemorrhage of emigration which empties our countries of its vital forces. Peace is a precious gift entrusted by God to human family, whose members are to be “peacemakers who will be called children of God” (Mt 5:9).
VII. Appeal to the International Community
11. The citizens of the countries of the Middle East call upon the international community, particularly the United Nations conscientiously to work to find a peaceful, just and definitive solution in the region, through the application of the Security Council’s resolutions and taking the necessary legal steps to put an end to the occupation of the different Arab territories.
The Palestinian people will thus have an independent and sovereign homeland where they can live with dignity and security. The State of Israel will be able to enjoy peace and security within their internationally recognized borders. The Holy City of Jerusalem will be able to acquire its proper status, which respects its particular character, its holiness and the religious patrimony of the three religions: Jewish, Christian and Muslim. We hope that the two-State-solution might become a reality and not a dream only.
Iraq will be able to put an end to the consequences of its deadly war and re-establish a secure way of life which will protect all its citizens with all their social structures, both religious and national.
Lebanon will be able to enjoy sovereignty over its entire territory, strengthen its national unity and carry on in its vocation to be the model of coexistence between Christians and Muslims, of dialogue between different cultures and religions, and of the promotion of basic public freedoms.
We condemn violence and terrorism from wherever it may proceed as well as all religious extremism. We condemn all forms of racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Christianism and Islamophobia and we call upon the religions to assume their responsibility to promote dialogue between cultures and civilisations in our region and in the entire world.
Conclusion: Continue to Bear Witness to the Divine Path That Has Been Shown to Us in the Person of Jesus
12. Brothers and sisters, in closing, we say with the St. John the Apostle: “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life for the life was made visible; we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was made visible to us what we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”(1 Jn 1:1-3).
This Divine Life which has appeared to the apostles over 2000 years ago in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ and to which the Church has witnessed throughout the course of her history will always remain the life of our Churches in the Middle East and the object of our witness, sustained by the promise of the Lord:“Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the time” (Mt 28:20). Together we proceed on our journey with hope,“and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rm 5:5).
We confess that, until now, we have not done what is possible to better live communion in our communities. We have not done enough to better live communion among our communities. We have not done everything possible to confirm you in your faith and to give you the spiritual nourishment you need in your difficulties. The Lord invites us to a conversion as individuals and communities.
Today we return to you full of hope, strength and resolution, bearing with us the message of the Synod and its recommendations in order to study them together and to put them into practice in our Churches, each one according to the Church’s states of life. We hope also that this new effort might be ecumenical.
We make a humble and sincere appeal to you, that together we might embark on the road of conversion, allowing ourselves to be renewed through the grace of the Holy Spirit and again draw close to God.
To the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church and Queen of Peace, under whose protection we have accomplished our Synodal task, we entrust our journey towards new, Christian horizons in the faith of Christ and through the power of his word: “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21:5).
41 Propositions of Mideast Synod
Addresses Identity of Christians, Migration, Dialogue
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 24, 2010 - Here is the unofficial Vatican translation of the 41 propositions of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops on the theme The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness."
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Documentation Presented to the Supreme Pontiff
The synod fathers present to the Supreme Pontiff for his consideration the documentation resulting from the Special Assembly concerning «The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness. "Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul" (Acts 4: 32)». This documentation includes: the "Lineamenta", the "Instrumentum laboris", the "ante" and "post disceptationem" presentations, the texts of the interventions, both those presented in the synod hall and those "in scriptis", and especially some specific recommendations to which the synod fathers have given a certain importance.
The synod fathers humbly ask the Holy Father to consider the possibility of issuing a document on the Communion and Witness of the Church in Middle East.
The Word of God
The Word of God is the soul and foundation of the Christian life and of all pastoral work; we hope that every family would own a Bible.
The synod fathers encourage daily reading of and meditation on the Word of God, especially "lectio divina", and the creation of a website about the Bible, including Catholic explanations and commentaries which are easily understood by the faithful. We would also like to see the preparation of an introductory booklet to the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, which could offer a simple way to help people read the Bible.
They also encourage eparchies / dioceses (throughout the document, the word "diocese" also applies to an "eparchy", the equivalent term in Eastern terminology) and parishes to introduce and promote Bible studies in which the Word of God is meditated upon and explained in such a way as to answer the questions the people have, and help them to become more familiar with the Scriptures, deepening their spirituality and apostolic and missionary commitment.
A Biblical Pastoral Programme
The synod fathers urgently recommend that work be undertaken to place the two Testaments of Holy Scripture at the centre of our Christian life by encouraging the faithful to proclaim them, read them, meditate on them, interpret them in the light of Christ and celebrate them liturgically, as did the first Christian communities.
We propose that a Year of the Bible be proclaimed after due preparation and that it be followed by an annual Week of the Bible.
I. THE CHRISTIAN PRESENCE IN THE MIDDLE EAST
Identity of the Eastern Catholic Churches
Amidst a world marked by division and extreme positions, we are called to live communion in the Church staying open to everyone, without succumbing to confessionalism. We will be able to do this if we remain faithful to our rich historical, liturgical, patristic and spiritual heritage as well as the teaching of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and to the norms and structures of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, the Code of Canon Law and the particular laws of the Churches.
Sharing in the Cross
Whilst denouncing persecution and violence like everyone else, the Christian remembers that being Christian means sharing the cross of Christ. The disciple is not greater than the Master (cf Mt 10:24). He recalls that blessed are those who are persecuted for justice sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven (cf Mt 5:10).
However, persecution must raise the awareness of Christians worldwide of the need for greater solidarity. It must also arouse in us the commitment to support and insist on international law and respect for all people and all peoples.
The attention of the whole world should be focused on the tragic situation of certain Christian communities of the Middle East which suffer all manner of trials sometimes even to the point of martyrdom.
National and international bodies should also be called upon to make a special effort to bring an end to this situation of tension by re-establishing justice and peace.
Given that attachment to the land of one's birth is an essential element of the identity both of individuals and of peoples, as well as an environment of freedom, we exhort our faithful and our Church communities not to give in to the temptation to sell off their real estate. In difficult economic circumstances, we propose to help Christians retain possession of their lands or to acquire new ones through the creation of projects responsible for making them prosper, allowing the owners to stay where they are with dignity. This effort must be accompanied by an in-depth examination of the meaning of the Christian presence and vocation in the Middle East.
For the sake of transparency, it is necessary to devise an auditing system for the Church's financial affaires, which distinguishes clearly what belongs to the Church and what belongs personally to those in service of the Church. At the same time, it is necessary to maintain the properties and goods of the Church and her institutions.
Encouragement to Make Pilgrimages
The East is the land of biblical Revelation. Very early on, the region became a place of pilgrimage in the footsteps of Abraham in Iraq, of Moses in Egypt and in Sinai, of Jesus in the Holy Land (Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Israel and Lebanon) and of St. Paul and the Churches mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles and the book of Revelation (Syria, Cyprus, and Turkey).
Pilgrimage to the Holy Places has been encouraged by the Supreme Pontiffs. Going back to the place of origins is an opportunity for a profound catechesis, enabling the pilgrim to discover the riches of the Eastern Churches and to meet and encourage the local Christian communities, the living stones of the Church.
Our Churches commit themselves to pray and to work for justice and peace in the Middle East and call for a "purification of memory", choosing the language of peace and hope and avoiding that of fear and violence. They call upon the civil authorities to implement the resolutions of the United Nations concerning the region, particularly the return of refugees and the status of Jerusalem and the Holy Places.
Consolidating the presence of Christians
Our Churches must create an office or a commission entrusted with the study of the phenomenon of migration and of the factors behind it so as to find ways of stopping it. They are to do all that is possible to boost the presence of Christians in their countries, and to do this especially through development projects to limit the phenomenon of migration.
Pastoral practice for emigration
The presence of numerous Eastern Christians in all the continents challenges the Church to devise an appropriate pastoral programme in light of emigration:
1. the Eastern bishops are to visit the seminaries of the Middle East to present the situation and the needs of their eparchies;
2. the formation of seminarians with a missionary spirit, open to different cultures;
3. the preparation and accompaniment of priests missioned outside the patriarchal territory;
4. the promotion of vocations work in the communities outside of the patriarchal territory; and
5. the sending of priests and the establishment of their own eparchies wherever the pastoral needs require them according to the canonical norms.
Emigration and Solidarity
1. To awaken and reinforce a sense of solidarity and of sharing with the country of origin, by contributing to pastoral projects and in cultural, educational, economic and social development;
2. to educate Christians who have emigrated to remain faithful to the tradition of their origins;
3. to strengthen bonds of communion between emigrants and the Churches in their native countries.
Emigration - Formation
We urge Churches in the countries which receive immigrants to be familiar with and to respect Eastern theology, traditions and patrimonies, and that this be reflected in their norms, and sacramental and administrative practices. This will help collaboration with Eastern Churches present in those countries, and in the formation and pastoral care of their faithful.
We are seriously concerned about the condition of immigrant workers in the Middle East, both Christians and non-Christians, especially women. Many of them find themselves in situations that are difficult or that even undermine their dignity.
We call on patriarchal synods and episcopal conferences, Catholic charitable institutions, especially Caritas, political leaders, and all people of good will, to do everything in their power to ensure the respect of immigrants' fundamental rights as recognised by international law, regardless of the nationality or religion of the immigrants in question, and to offer them legal and human assistance. Our Churches should seek to provide the spiritual help they need as a sign of Christian hospitality and of ecclesial communion.
To better welcome and guide immigrants to the Middle East, the Churches from which they come are asked to maintain regular contact with the Churches which welcome them by assisting them to set up the structures they need, i.e. parishes, schools, meeting places, etc.
II. ECCLESIAL COMMUNION
A. Communion Within the Church (ad intra)
Communion within the Catholic Church
"The Holy Catholic Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ, is made up of the faithful who are organically united in the Holy Spirit by the same faith, the same sacraments and the same government and who, combining together into various groups which are held together by a hierarchy, form separate Churches or Rites. Between these there exists an admirable bond of union, such that the variety within the Church in no way harms its unity; rather it manifests it" ((Orientalium Ecclesiarum, 2). To strengthen this communion, we recommend:
1. the creation of a commission of cooperation between the Catholic hierarchs of the Middle East, which will be responsible for the promotion of a common pastoral strategy, better understanding of one another's traditions, inter-ritual institutions and joint charitable organizations;
2. the organisation of regular meetings between Catholic hierarchies of the Middle East;
3. the sharing of material resources between rich and poor dioceses;
4. the foundation of a priestly association, Fidei Donum, for the mutual assistance of eparchies and Churches.
New Ecclesial Movements
A number of the synod fathers recognize that the new ecclesial movements of the Western tradition, increasingly present in the Churches of the Middle East, are a gift of the Spirit to the whole Church. To help the charism of these movements to build up the Church, it behoves their members to live out their own charism taking into full account the culture, history, liturgy, and spirituality of the local Church. To make this happen, these movements are asked without delay to start working in union with the bishop of the place and to follow his pastoral instructions. It would be desirable for the Catholic hierarchy of each country of the Middle East to work out a common pastoral position on the movements in question, their integration and pastoral activity.
The Jurisdiction of Patriarchs
Outside of the patriarchal territory, in order to maintain the communion of the Eastern faithful with their patriarchal Churches and to provide them with appropriate pastoral service, it is desirable to study the question of extending the jurisdiction of the Eastern Patriarchs to cover members of their Churches wherever they live throughout the world, with a view to taking appropriate measures.
The Situation of the Catholic Faithful in the Gulf Countries
In a spirit of communion and for the good of the faithful, it would be desirable to form a commission bringing together the representatives of the relevant dicasteries, the apostolic vicars of the region and the representatives of the sui iuris Churches concerned. This commission would be responsible for studying the situation of the Catholic faithful in the countries of the Gulf, the ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and suggest solutions to the Holy See which it deems helpful for the promotion of pastoral action.
Vocations work supposes:
-- prayers for vocations in the family, in the parish, etc.;
-- promoting the Christian life in families so as to make possible the blossoming of vocations;
-- the creation of vocations committees in each diocese involving priests, consecrated men and women and lay people to organize meetings for young people so as to present to them the various vocations in the Church and clarify their discernments;
-- devise a plan of spiritual formation for young people involved in the ecclesial movements;
-- making parishes and schools more aware of the different kinds of vocations, priestly, consecrated and lay;
-- maintaining or setting up minor seminaries where feasible;
-- calling on priests and consecrated men and women to witness by the coherence of what they say and do in their lives;
-- to intensify an ecclesial communion between priests, which requires an openness to the different pastoral needs of dioceses. This can help remedy the low number of priests in some dioceses; and
-- to attract young people to consecrated life by the example of a deep, radiant, happy spiritual life.
The Arabic Language
The experience of the synod for the Middle East has highlighted the importance of the Arabic language, above all that it has contributed to the development of the theological and spiritual thought of the universal Church, and more precisely the patrimony of Arabic Christian literature.
The proposal was made to make greater use of the Arabic language in the major institutions of the Holy See and their official meetings, so that Christians of Arab culture have access to information from the Holy See in their mother tongue.
B. Communion Among the Bishops, Clergy and Faithful
To make sure the clergy have a reasonable and dignified standard of living, especially when they are advanced in years and not in active service, it is necessary:
1. to put in place a system of solidarity that ensures an equal salary for all priests who are active or inactive, as set out in the canonical norms;
2. to institute a system of social protection according to the conditions of each country that should be extended to men and women religious, as well as to the wives of married priests and to their children who are minors.
Clerical celibacy has always and everywhere been respected and valued in the Catholic Churches, in the East as in the West. Nonetheless, with a view to the pastoral service of our faithful, wherever they are to be found, and to respect the traditions of the Eastern Churches, it would be desirable to study the possibility of having married priests outside the patriarchal territory.
By Baptism, lay people participate in the triple function of Christ's priesthood, becoming prophets, kings and priests. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council recognized the role and mission of the laity in its decree on the lay apostolate (Apostolicam actuositatem). Pope John Paul II convoked a synod on the laity and published the apostolic exhortation Christifideles laici in which he expressed esteem for "the very important apostolic collaboration which the lay faithful, men and women, bring to the life of the Church through their charisms and all their activity in the cause of evangelization, the sanctification and the Christian animation of the temporal realm" (no. 23).
The synod fathers commit themselves in the same way, especially since lay people in the East have always played a role in the life of the Church. The fathers want lay people to share in a greater degree of responsibility in the Church, encouraging them to be apostles in their workplace and to witness to Christ in the world in which they live.
Formation of seminarians
As a way of developing our unity in diversity, seminarians are to be formed in the seminaries of their respective Churches as well as to receive their theological formation in a joint Catholic faculty. In certain places and for pastoral and administrative reasons, however, it may be helpful to have a single seminary for different Churches.
The Consecrated Life
At the heart of the Church is consecrated, apostolic, monastic and contemplative life. The synod fathers show deep gratitude to consecrated men and women for their evangelical witness. They remember especially the martyrs of yesteryear and the present day. They ask that the consecrated life, adequately renewed, be welcomed, encouraged, and integrated ever more closely into the life and mission of the Church in the Middle East.
Our Churches recognize the importance of the place of consecrated women and women religious in society, by virtue of their witness of faith, their disinterested service and their precious contribution to "the dialogue of life".
Women and Children
Our Churches are to take the appropriate means to foster and reinforce the respect, dignity, role and rights of women. The competent and generous devotion of women at the service of life, the family, education and healthcare need to be highly appreciated. Our Churches are to ensure that they are integrated and take a full part in pastoral activities by listening carefully to them. Children are the crown of marriage and a special gift for the world, the Catholic Church and Catholic parents have always shown a special interest for the health and education of all their children. Every effort must be made to safeguard and promote the respect of their natural human rights from the moment of conception, and to provide them with healthcare and Christian education.
C. Communion With the Churches and Ecclesial Communities: Ecumenism (ad extra)
Unity between the disciples of Christ in the Middle East is above all the work of the Spirit. It is to be sought through a conversion of the heart, in a spirit of prayer, respect, perseverance and love, far removed from any trace of the mistrust, fear and prejudice which constitute such obstacles to unity.
We wish to see our Churches renew their ecumenical commitment through practical initiatives:
-- by supporting the Council of the Churches of the Middle East;
-- by providing our parishes, schools and seminaries with formation in an ecumenical spirit, underlining the achievements of the ecumenical movement;
-- by implementing any pastoral agreements which may have been made;
-- by organising meetings of the faithful and pastors for prayer, meditation on the Word of God and collaboration in all areas;
-- by adopting a standard Arabic translation of the Our Father and the Nicene Creed; and
-- by working for a common date for the celebrations of Christmas and Easter.
The Eastern Catholic Churches, living in communion with the Church of Rome and in fidelity to their Eastern traditions, have a vital ecumenical role to play.
The synod fathers urge these Churches to inaugurate an ecumenical dialogue at the local level. They recommend also that the Eastern Catholic Churches take part as much as possible in international commissions for dialogue.
Feast of Martyrs
To inaugurate an annual feast in common for all the martyrs of the Churches of the Middle East and to request each Eastern Church to draw up a list of its own martyrs, witnesses of the faith.
III. CHRISTIAN WITNESS
WITNESSES OF THE RESURRECTION AND LOVE
A. Christian Formation
To help adults to grow in a living faith, our Churches of the Middle East propose the creation of catechetical centres where they are lacking. On-going formation and collaboration between the different Churches at the level of the laity, seminaries and universities are indispensable. All these centres should be open to all the Churches. Catechists in particular must be properly prepared through a suitable formation which takes into account current problems and challenges.
All the baptised are to be ready to give an account of their faith in Jesus Christ and are to be concerned about putting forward the Gospel without timidity but also without giving offence. Formation is to address the celebration of the mysteries, knowing, living and acting. Homilies are to be well prepared, based on the Word of God and linked to real life. It is important that formation includes learning about modern technology and communication science. Lay people are to witness firmly to Christ in society. The foundations which will enable them to become such witnesses are in Catholic schools which have always been recognised as the most important means of religious education for Catholics and for a social formation which leads to mutual understanding of all members of society.
At the university level, we encourage the foundation of an association of institutions of higher education with particular attention to the social doctrine of the Church.
In order to form leaders and pastoral workers in various areas, we recommend the foundation of inter-ecclesial formation centres in each country which employ the new technology of audiovisual communications.
The resources they produce should be available on-line and on DVD to make them as cheaply and widely available as possible.
Catholic schools and Educational Institutions
The synod fathers encourage Catholic schools and educational institutions to continue to be faithful to their mission of educating new generations in Christ's spirit, in human and Gospel values, and consolidating a culture of openness, conviviality, care and concern for the poor and for those who suffer from disability. In spite of the difficulties, the fathers invite them to maintain the educational mission of the Church and to further the development of young people who are the future of our societies. Given how important the role of these institutions is for the common good, we remind those in positions of responsibility to offer them their support.
The synod fathers have noted the pivotal importance of the new means of communication for Christian formation in the Middle East, as well as for the proclamation of the faith. They are communication networks which hold out the promise of special opportunities for the spreading of the Church's teaching.
Concretely, the synod fathers advocate the aid and maintenance of the existing structures in this area, such as "Télé-lumière-Noursat," "la Voix de la Charité" and others, so as to fulfil the objectives for which they have been established in an ecclesial spirit. Some synod fathers have even wanted to support the creation of a media city for Noursat both regionally and internationally.
The synod fathers heartily recommend to those in charge of audiovisual structures in our Churches:
-- the creation of a team with technical and theological expertise;
-- the establishment of programmes of biblical formation for pastoral purposes; and
-- the use of subtitles in Turkish and Farsi for Christians in Turkey and Iran.
Heirs of an apostolic spirit which has taken the Good News to distant lands, our Eastern Catholic Churches are asked to renew their missionary spirit in prayer, through formation and through being sent on mission. The urgency of the mission both ad intra and ad extra is an incentive for the Churches.
The family, the basic unit of society and the "domestic Church," needs to be accompanied and supported through its problems and difficulties, especially in the urban environment. In order to attain this objective, we need to make better provisions in centres for marriage preparation, counselling and guidance centres, spiritual and human guidance of young families, and their on-going pastoral support, above all those facing difficult situations (emotional difficulties, disability, drugs etc.). Child bearing and the good education of children should be encouraged. The practice of home visiting by pastors should be revived.
"Youth are the future of the Church", said Pope John Paul II. His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI continues to encourage youth: "Despite these difficulties, do not let yourselves be discouraged, and do not give up on your dreams! Instead, cultivate all the more your heart's great desire for fellowship, justice and peace. The future is in the hands of those who know how to seek and find sound reasons for life and hope" ("Message for the XXV World Youth Day", 7, 28 March 2010). Moreover, he appeals to them to be missionaries and witnesses in their societies and in their way of life. He calls them to deepen their faith and grow in their knowledge of Jesus Christ, their Ideal and Model, so as to participate with him in the salvation of the world.
The synod fathers commit themselves:
-- to listen to them so as to respond to their questioning and their needs;
-- to ensure their necessary spiritual and theological formation, suitable to assist them in their work;
-- to build with them bridges of dialogue so as to bring down the walls of division and separation in societies; and
-- to put to use their creativity and their know-how so they can serve Christ, their peers and the society in which they live.
A New Evangelisation
Our Churches are called upon to adopt the mentality of a New Evangelisation by taking into consideration the cultural and social context in which people live, work and act today. This demands a profound conversion and renewal in light of the Word of God and the sacraments, especially reconciliation and the Eucharist.
The synod fathers urgently recommend the diffusion of the social doctrine of the Church, which is oftentimes lacking. It is an integral part of faith formation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church are important resources in this area.
The synod fathers urge the bishops' conference of each country to form an episcopal commission to prepare and propagate the Church's social discourse, taking as its starting point the teaching of the Church, the various positions adopted by the Holy See regarding current affairs and the actual circumstances facing each country.
The synod fathers urgently recommend that the Eastern Churches take care of the elderly, of immigrants and refugees with their many different social needs and most especially of the disabled, setting up whatever structures are needed to meet their needs and facilitating their integration in society.
In fidelity to God the Creator Christians are to have at heart the protection of nature and the environment they call upon government and all men of women of good will to unite their efforts to safeguard creation.
B. The Liturgy
The biblical and theological wealth of the Eastern liturgies is at the spiritual service of the universal Church. Nonetheless, it would be useful and important to renew the liturgical texts and celebrations, where necessary, so as to answer better the needs and expectations of the faithful. This renewal must be based on an ever deeper knowledge of tradition and be adapted to contemporary language and categories.
C. Interreligious Dialogue
Christians in the Middle East are called upon to pursue dialogue with the followers of other religions, bringing hearts and minds closer together. For this to happen, they, along with their partners, are invited to work to fortify interreligious dialogue, to strive for the purification of memory through the forgiveness for the events of the past, and to seek a better future together.
In their daily lives, they are to endeavour to accept one another in spite of their differences, working to build a new society in which fanaticism and extremism have no place.
The synod fathers would like to see drawn up a formation plan which helps people to be more open, for use in teaching establishments as well as in seminaries and novitiates. This will help build a culture of dialogue based on human and religious solidarity.
Judaism has a central place in the Declaration of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Nostra aetate. Initiatives of dialogue and cooperation with Jews are to be encouraged so as to foster human and religious values, freedom, justice, peace and fraternity. Reading the Old Testament and getting to know Jewish traditions lead to a better understanding of the Jewish religion. We reject anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism, while distinguishing between religion and politics.
The Declaration of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Nostra aetate, alongside the pastoral letters of the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs, serves as the basis for the Catholic Church's relations with Muslims. As Pope Benedict XVI has said: "Interreligious and intercultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims cannot be reduced to an optional extra. It is in fact a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends" (Pope Benedict XVI, "Meeting with representatives of Muslim Communities", Cologne, 20 August 2005).
In the Middle East, Christians share a common life and a common destiny with Muslims. Together they build up society. It is important to promote the notion of citizenship, the dignity of the human person, equal rights and duties and religious freedom, including both freedom of worship and freedom of conscience.
Christians in the Middle East are called to pursue a fruitful dialogue of life with Muslims. They are to take care to show an attitude of esteem and love, leaving aside every negative prejudice. Together, Christians and Muslims, they are called upon to discover their respective religious values. They are to offer the world an image of a positive encounter and a fruitful collaboration between believers of the two religions, combating together every sort of fundamentalism and violence in the name of religion.
Follow-up on the Synod
The Churches which have taken part in the Synod are called upon to make sure that it is properly followed up by working together with the Council of the Catholic Patriarchs of the Middle East and the official structures of the relevant Churches, with a greater involvement of priests and lay and religious experts.
The Virgin Mary
Holy Mary, the Virgin of Nazareth, who shows us how to listen to the Word of God, is the Blessed Daughter of our land. From the very beginning of Christian history, it was the theological reflection of our Eastern Churches which led to the decisive and glorious definition of Mary as "Theotokos", Mother of God.
In the liturgies of all our Churches, the Virgin Mary has a place of honour and is the object of the special love of all the People of God.
This Daughter of our land, whom all peoples call blessed, is justifiably invoked as Mother of the Church, especially since the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.
Aware of the special bonds which, by God's design, unite us to the Mother of Jesus, we propose that our Churches come together and jointly entrust the entire Middle East to the protection of the Virgin Mary.