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Synod fathers cite hardships, religious intolerance facing Christians in Middle East

Catholic World News - October 14, 2010

The harsh life facing Christians as a religious minority in the Middle East and the absence of religious freedom in Islamic countries were prominent themes in the discussions of the Synod of Bishops on October 13 and 14.

Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni made the observation that the faithful should be prepared to accept sacrifices. “Christians enlightened by the Holy Spirit think they should be spared difficulties,” he said. From the earliest days of the Church, Christians regularly found themselves in a despised minority, he observed. “It is important to point this out, and in this sense to re-evangelize our faithful by presenting them the faith as it was lived during the first centuries of Christianity.” While always working for justice, therefore, the Church should place top priority on fidelity to the Gospel, the Armenian prelate insisted.

Patriarch Ignace Youssif III Younan of the Syrian Catholic Church agreed. “Our salvation lies in courageous adherence to His message, and in fearless proclamation of truth in authentic charity,” he said. The Synod’s message to the Church should underline this message, he said, and inspire the Christian people of the region. “Our who have the right to hope as they live their lives in this tormented region of the Middle East, expect a great deal from this Synod,” he said. “It is up to us to give them reasons for their faith, a faith inseparable from hope in our beloved Lord Who assures us: 'Do not fear, little flock.’”

Several Synod fathers, reporting on conditions in the Islamic world, reinforced the general concern about the lack of religious freedom for Christians there. Bishop Camillo Ballin, the apostolic vicar of Kuwait, reported: “In Muslim tradition, the Gulf is the land sacred to the Prophet of Islam, Mohammed, and no other religion should exist there.” Bishop Paul Hinder, the apostolic vicar for Arabia, confirmed the problem, speaking about the lands of the Arabian peninsula: “There is no freedom of religion (no Muslim can convert but Christians are welcome into Islam), and only limited freedom of worship in designated places, granted by benevolent rulers (except in Saudi Arabia).”

Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, cited a particularly vivid example of this lack of religious tolerance: “It would seem that Christians who die in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to be buried there; their bodies are flown to Ethiopia for burial. Could the Saudi authorities be requested to allocate a cemetery for Christians in Saudi Arabia?”

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