The working document (Instrumentum Laboris) for the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops (Oct 2010) has been published by the Vatican.

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In this podcast we hear a synopsis of the Instrumentum Laboris

Special Assembly for the Middle East

Click on link to download full text of Instrumentum Laboris for Middle East Synod

The Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops will take place from 10-24th October 2010 in the Vatican.  The working document for the Synod was recently presented by Pope Benedict during his visit to Cyprus.

The Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops ….. will attempt to deepen the bonds of communion between the members of your local Churches, and the communion of these churches with each other and with the universal Church. The Assembly also aims to encourage you in the witness of your faith in Christ in those countries where the faith was born and from where it spread. It is also known that some of you have endured great hardships due to the current situation in the region. The Special Assembly is an opportunity for Christians from the rest of the world to offer spiritual support and solidarity to their brothers and sisters in the Middle East. This is an opportunity to highlight the significant value of the Christian presence and witness in countries of the Bible, not only for the Christian community worldwide, but also for your neighbours and fellow citizens. You are help the common good in countless ways, for example through education, health care and social assistance, and you work to build society. You want to live in peace and harmony with your Jew and Muslim neighbours. Often, you act as peacemakers in the difficult process of reconciliation. You deserve recognition for the invaluable role you fill. This is my serious hope that your rights are increasingly respected, including the right to freedom of worship and religious freedom, and that you will never again suffer discrimination of any kind.
Pope Benedict XVI

Principal aims of Synod

In the preface Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, underlines how many people consider that “the present-day situation in the Middle East is much like that of the primitive Christian community in the Holy Land”, which had to face difficulties and persecution.

The introduction underlines the principal aims of the Synod: firstly

“to confirm and strengthen the members of the Catholic Church in their Christian identity, through the Word of God and the Sacraments”;

and secondly

“to foster ecclesial communion among the ‘sui iuris’ Churches, so that they can bear witness to Christian life in an authentic, joyous and attractive way”.

Chapter One

The first chapter focuses on the Catholic Church in the Middle East, recalling that all the Churches in the world “trace their roots to the Church of Jerusalem”. … It also recalls that the Churches of the Middle East are apostolic in origin and that it “would indeed be a great loss for the universal Church if Christianity were to disappear or be diminished in the very place where it was born”. Here lies the “grave responsibility … to maintain the Christian faith in these holy lands”. … Christians, then, despite their “low numbers”, “are entitled to be a part of the fabric of society and identify themselves with their respective homelands. Their disappearance would mean a loss in the pluralism of the Middle East”.

Catholics are called to promote the concept of “positive secularism” of the State to “eliminate the theocratic character of government” and allow “greater equality among citizens of different religions, thereby fostering the promotion of a sound democracy, positively secular in nature, which fully acknowledges the role of religion, also in public life, while completely respecting the distinction between the religious and civil orders”. …

The document then underlines the fact that regional conflicts make the situation of Christians even more fragile. “The Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories is creating difficulties in everyday life, inhibiting freedom of movement, the economy and religious life (access to the Holy Places is dependent on military permission which is granted to some and denied to others on security grounds). … Christians are the main victims of the war in Iraq. … In Lebanon, Christians are deeply divided at the political and confessional level”. “In Egypt, the rise of political Islam, on the one hand, and the disengagement of Christians (forcefully at times) from civil society on the other, lead to severe difficulties”. “In other countries, authoritarianism or dictatorships force the population, Christians included, to bear everything in silence so as to safeguard the essential aspects of living. In Turkey, the idea of ‘secularism’ is currently posing more problems for full religious freedom in the country”. Christians are exhorted to remain strong in their commitment in society, despite being tempted to discouragement. “In the Middle East, freedom of religion customarily means freedom of worship and not freedom of conscience, that is, the freedom to believe or not believe, to practice openly one’s religion, privately or publicly, or to change one’s religion for another.

Generally speaking, religion in the Middle East is a social and even a national choice, not an individual one. To change one’s religion is perceived as a betrayal of the society, culture and nation, which are founded, for the most part, on a religious tradition”. For this reason “conversion to Christianity is perceived to be from self-interest and not authentic religious conviction. Oftentimes, the conversion of Muslims is forbidden by State law”. … In the meantime, Islamic extremism continues to grow in the entire area creating “a threat to everyone, Christians and Muslims alike”. In this context of conflict, economic difficulties and political and religious limitations, Christians continue to emigrate. “International policies often pay no attention to the existence of Christians, and the fact that they are victims, at times the first to suffer, goes unnoticed. This is also a major cause of emigration”.

Chapter Two

Chapter two is dedicated to ecclesial communion. … “Communion within the universal Church – the document says – is principally manifested in two ways: in the first place, through Baptism and the Eucharist, and, secondly, through communion with the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter, chief among the Apostles, ‘permanent and visible source and foundation of the unity of faith and communion'”. … “Communion among the various members of the same Church or Patriarchate is based on the model of communion with the universal Church and the Successor of St. Peter, the Bishop of Rome.

At the level of the Patriarchal Church, communion is expressed by a Synod which gathers the bishops of an entire community around the Patriarch, the Father and Head of his Church. … Christians are called to see themselves “as members of the Catholic Church in the Middle East and not simply as members of a particular Church”.

Chapter Three

Chapter three deals with the theme of Christian witness, reiterating “the importance of catechesis in knowing and transmitting the faith”, … the urgent need for ecumenism, overcoming prejudices and mistrust through dialogue and collaboration. … It rejects “a proselytism which employs means not in keeping with the Gospel”. Mention is also made of relations with Judaism, “whose theological basis is to be found in Vatican Council II”. Dialogue with the Jews is defined as essential, though “at times not without its obstacles” being affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Church hopes that “both peoples may live in peace in a homeland of their own, within secure and internationally recognised borders”. The document firmly rejects anti-Semitism, underlining that “current animosity between Arabs and Jews seems to be political in character” and therefore foreign to any ecclesial discussion. Christians are asked “to bring a spirit of reconciliation, based on justice and equality of the two parties.The Churches in the Middle East also call upon all involved to take into account the distinction between religion and politics”.

The Catholic Church’s relations with Muslims also have their foundation in Vatican Council II. … “Often relations between Christians and Muslims are difficult, because Muslims make no distinction between religion and politics – the document states – thereby relegating Christians to the precarious position of being considered non-citizens, despite the fact that they were citizens of their countries long before the rise of Islam. The key to harmonious living between Christians and Muslims is to recognise religious freedom and human rights”.

Christians are called upon not to isolate “themselves in ghettos and a defensive and reclusive attitude which is sometimes seen in minority groups”. … In the conflict facing Middle Eastern countries, Christians are called upon to promote “the word of truth”: This is “realistic. Although efforts on behalf of peace can be rebuffed, they also have the possibility of being accepted, considering that the path to violence, taken by both the strong and the weak, has led the Middle East to nothing but failure and a general stalemate”. This situation is exploited by “the most radical elements in global terrorism”. The contribution by Christians, “though requiring great courage, is nonetheless indispensable” even if “too often” Middle Eastern countries “identify Christianity with the West”, bringing great harm to the Christian Churches. The document also analyses the strong impact of “modernity”, which “to most Muslim believers is perceived to be atheistic and immoral and a cultural invasion, threatening them and upsetting their value-system”. “At the same time, ‘modernity’ is the struggle for justice and equality, the defence of rights”. … “Christians have a special contribution to make in the area of justice and peace”; they have the duty to “courageously denounce violence no matter what its origin, and suggest solutions which can only be attained through dialogue”, reconciliation and forgiveness. However Christians must “utilise peaceful means to insist that the rights of Christians be acknowledged by civil authorities”.

The document then examines the topic of evangelisation in a Muslim society which can only happen through witness: however, this must be “ensured through timely, external intervention”. The charitable activities of Christian communities “towards all without distinction, to the poorest and those pushed to the periphery of society, represents the clearest way of spreading the Christian message”.

Conclusion

In its conclusion, the document points out the “great concern for the present difficulties Christians are facing, yet, at the same time express a hope, founded on the Christian faith”. … For decades, the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict, disregard for international law, the selfishness of great powers and the lack of respect for human rights have disrupted the stability of the region and subjected entire populations to a level of violence which tempts them to despair. Many – Christians for the most part – are emigrating elsewhere. In the face of this challenge and sustained by the universal Christian community, Christians in the Middle East are called to respond to their vocation of service to society”. Believers are called upon to be “witnesses … aware that faithfully witnessing to Christ can lead to persecution”.

The Instrumentum Laboris concludes:

“‘Do not be afraid, little flock’. You have a mission; the growth of your country and the vitality of your Church depend on you. This will only be achieved with peace, justice and equality for all citizens!”

VATICAN CITY, 6 JUN 2010 (VIS)