Catholic World News

Middle East Synod opens discussions: summary

October 11, 2010

The Synod of Bishops for the Middle East began its deliberations on October 11, with a long report on the themes that have emerged from preparatory discussions.

Pope Benedict XVI addressed the opening session of the Synod (see today’s separate CWN news story), as did Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, the prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches and the president for the session. Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, the secretary general of the Synod, then reminded the assembled bishops about the preparations for this meeting.

Archbishop Eterovic reported that there are 5.7 million Catholics among the 356 million people in the region defined at the “Middle East” for purposes of this Synod. Thus Catholics constitute about 1.6% of the overall population, and live as a minority in the region. Catholics are also a minority even among the Christians of the region. Although statistics are not reliable, the entire Christian population is roughly 20 million; most are Orthodox.

Coptic Catholic Patriarch Antonios Naguib, the relator general of the Synod, sharpened the focus of the discussions by reading the Relatio ante Disceptationem, the report intended to summarize the Synod preparations and open the debates.

Christians are indeed a minority in the Middle East, the Coptic Patriarch acknowledged, but “their is enlightening and should be supported and encouraged.” He spoke at some length about the political pressures on Christian minorities, particularly in countries like Iraq (where they are, he said, “primary victims of the war and its consequences”), Lebanon, and Egypt. In the entire region, he continued, it is important to uphold the religious freedom of Christians who often face adverse circumstances.

Emigration is a constant problem for the Church, Patriarch Antonios continued. The Christian community needs to find ways to encourage young families to stay in the region, ensuring them of some security and hope for the future and empowering them to maintain an active Christian witness in the land of the apostles.

Next the Coptic leader spoke about the importance of relations among the different Catholic churches, and between Catholics and other Christians. He stressed the importance of upholding the traditions of the Eastern churches—especially their central liturgical traditions. At the same time, he said, Christians should work together to defend the faith they hold in common.

The Patriarch also spoke about relations with the other monotheistic faiths. He said that the Church must condemn all forms of anti-Semitism, but added—in an obvious reference to the Israel-Palestine problem—that some problems “are due to conflicting political situations, which necessitates a distinction between the religious and political reality.”

In dealings with Muslims, Patriarch Antonios said, the Church’s work is complicated by the fact that “Muslims in general do not distinguish between religion and politics, a situation resulting in Christians becoming non-citizens.” The problem has been aggravated, he added, by the growth of fundamentalism. The appropriate response, he suggested, might lie in “education to peace, the elimination of all forms of prejudice from school books.”

There are 185 bishops participating in the October Synod, with a majority representing Eastern Catholic churches. There are also 70 experts and auditors, including representatives of the Orthodox churches, Muslims, and Jews.

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