The Post-Discussion Report summarizing the main issues discussed over the past week by bishops attending the Synod for the Churches of the Middle East was read out to the assembly Monday morning. The bishops continued their work in the afternoon, in closed-door, small group sessions.
“We must become people of the bible” – that’s the essential message behind the post discussion report. An invitation and a challenge to clergy and the faithful in the Middle East to live the Christian witness to peace, justice, communion and honesty.
The report raises the questions of the freedom of religion and of conscience, the equality of citizens before the law, and the importance of the mass media as a useful and powerful tool for communicating the Christian message. Catholic education contributes to creating citizens committed to justice, peace and solidarity.
Peace and development in the Mideast must be encouraged so that Christians will remain in the region. By the same token, immigration of Christians towards the region, particularly from Asia and Africa, poses another pastoral challenge to the Churches. Women, the family and young people should be supported and the role of the laity in pastoral and ecclesial life reinforced. Monastic and contemplative life should be rediscovered and a “Bank of Priests” and another for lay faithful were suggested to help fill the gaps in zones where they’re lacking.
The report calls the division of Christians a “scandal” that must be healed and the synod should help further communion and unity with the Orthodox Churches so that one day Christmas and Easter can be celebrated together. The report adopts a two state solution for the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, rejects anti-semitism and calls for dialogue at all levels with Jews. Muslims and Christians should treat “serenely and objectively the subjects which concern the identity of man, justice, the values of a worthy social life and of reciprocity.” It was also suggested that the dialogue not be limited to moderate currents of Islam but should also engage fundamentalists and extremists who “profoundly” affect the masses.
The report concludes with a reminder to bishops that their real job is yet to begin, in communicating what has been accomplished to the faithful back home – and implementing the Synod directives and recommendations.
Report on Week One of Middle East Synod
Below 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.
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 προσήλυτος (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 minoritymeans 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?
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 18, 2010 (Zenit.org)