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Key issues for Middle East Synod: religious freedom, Jerusalem, enduring Christian presence

Catholic World News - October 06, 2010

The Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, which opens in Rome next week, will focus not on the region’s political problems but on the need for an active and apostolic Christian presence, according to a priest who has been named by Pope Benedict as an “expert” to participate in the October sessions.

Father Samir Khalil Samir, who comments regularly on Middle East affairs for the AsiaNews service, explained to AsiaNews that the vigor of the Christian churches is an essential component of any program for peace and welfare in the region. He stressed the need for religious freedom for Christians, and the need to persuade young Christians to remain active in public affairs. “The Synod must spell this out clearly,” he said: “Do not be afraid, stay in the Middle East, but remain to proclaim the beauty of the Gospel.”

Father Samir noted that some of the latest reasons for tension in the Middle East can be attributed to a conflict between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims, with the Hezbollah movement as its focus. Regarding the Israel-Palestinian problem, he observed that the best tactic might be to work with other Arab countries to encourage Palestinian negotiators to end a stalemate. He said:

If we really want peace, then we should at least put some principles on paper and then put them into practice: two states with clear borders. Unfortunately, Israel has never accepted the border issue, while on the Palestinian side there are still those who reject the very existence of Israel.

Archbishop Fouad Twal, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, told Vatican Radio that Pope Benedict decided to convene a Synod on the Middle East last year. He said that “the idea of the Synod came out just after the visit of His Holiness to the Holy Land when he saw so many problems that we have." Citing the need for concerted action among the many Christian bodies in the region—including the several Eastern Catholic churches with a strong presence in the Holy Land—the Patriarch said that the vigor of the Church and the status of Jerusalem would be crucial issues for the Synod. Regarding the political conflicts in the region, he said: “Jerusalem is the key for more peace or the key for more problems.”

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