Reflection on the Future of Christians in the Middle East
Reflection on the Future of Christians in the Middle East
Patriarch Antonios Naguib
Reflection by His Beatitude Antonios Naguib of AlexandriaA better future for generations to come
At the conclusion of the First General Congregation, which took place on Monday morning, 11 October , His Beatitude Antonios Naguib, Patriarch of Alexandria for Copts, Egypt, General Rapporteur gave the following report: the "Relatio ante disceptationem", before the general discussion.
Most Holy Father,
Your Eminences, Beatitudes and Excellencies,
Fraternal Delegates of the Sister Churches and Ecclesial Communities,
Dear Experts and Invited Guests,
First of all, I would like to express my deep gratitude to His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI for having appointed me as General Rapporteur of this Special Assembly for the Middle East. This is the first time I have taken on such an awesome task. I will try to carry it out to the best of my ability, relying on the Lord's assistance and your understanding.
Saint Luke reports in the Acts of the Apostles that Jesus, before taking leave of his Apostles, gave them these instructions: "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon 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).
The Apostles, after having received the Holy Spirit, undertook their mission and began fearlessly to announce the Good News of the Lord's life, death and resurrection (cf. Acts 2:32). Peter's first proclamation resulted in the conversion and Baptism of approximately 3,000 persons and many others after them, all of whom were radically transformed: "Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common" (Acts 4:32).
These happenings at the Church's origin inspired the topic and the goal of our Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops: communion and witness — both communal and personal — flowing from a life grounded in Christ and animated by the Holy Spirit. Over the centuries, the example of the Church of the Apostles has always been the model for the Church in every age.
Our Synodal Assembly aims at offering us assistance in returning to this ideal, in helping us examine our lives so as to give them a renewed energy and vitality which will purify, regenerate and invigorate us.
The Holy Father personally consigned to us the Instrumentum Laboris of this Special Assembly during his Apostolic Visit to Cyprus, a gesture which showed his particular concern for our Churches. Yesterday morning's Solemn Eucharistic Concelebration, at which His Holiness was the principal celebrant, is the best guarantee of God's blessing on this Assembly. Assured of this heavenly assistance and relying on the help and guidance of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we confidently approach our task.
All of us received the announcement of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops with great joy, enthusiasm, gratitude and fervour. The Holy Father's decision was seen as his fatherly acceptance of a proposal which was of particular concern to us and a demonstration of his special care for our Churches as Bishop of Rome and as the Supreme Shepherd of the Catholic Church. We have already witnessed his special consideration on various occasions and frequently during his homilies and discourses. We experienced it in a particular manner, during his Apostolic Visits to Turkey (2006), to Jordan, Israel and Palestine (2009) and most recently to Cyprus (2010). However, the actual presence of the Holy Father in our midst, during these proceedings, brings the love, solidarity, prayer and support of the Successor of Peter, the Holy See and the entire Church.
As soon as the Holy Father announced the event on 19 September 2009, the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops worked with the Pre-Synodal Council for the Middle East to prepare the Lineamenta, and, subsequently, the Instrumentum Laboris. For the most part, these documents find their basis in Sacred Scripture, with references to the documents of Vatican Council II, the Code of Canons 10 Pastoral Letters of the Council of Patriarchs of the Middle East. I believe that the work was well done, despite the limited time available in preparation.
I feel it would be useful to propose the following topics in the Instrumentum Laboris for more detailed treatment in the course of our work.
A. The Goal of the Synod (nn. 3-6)
The twofold aim of the Synod was well received and appreciated in our Catholic Churches, namely:
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 Churches sui iuris, so that they may offer an authentic and effective witness. Essential elements in this witness in our lives are ecumenism, interreligious dialogue and the missionary effort.
The Instrumentum Laboris insists on the need and importance that the synod fathers 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 often 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 (nn. 7-12)
We are proud to come from lands where men, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote the Holy Books in some of our native languages. This, however, makes demands on us. Holy Scripture must be the soul of our religious life and witness, both as individuals and communities. The Holy Liturgy is the centre and summit of our ecclesial life, where we celebrate and listen regularly to the Word of God. In our reading, praying and meditating upon the Holy Bible, whether as a Church, in small groups or individually, we must look for and find the answers to the meaning of our presence in our countries, our communion and our witness, taking into consideration our surroundings and the present-day challenges of new situations.
The Instrumentum Laboris draws attention to an insufficient response to the great thirst of our faithful for the Word of God, its understanding and its assimilation in their hearts and lives. In this regard, appropriate initiatives need to be considered, undertaken, encouraged and supported, particularly through utilising the modern media which are available today. Individuals, who, in virtue of their vocation, are more directly in contact with the Word of God, have a special responsibility to witness and intercede for the People of God. Memorisation of biblical texts is always beneficial and fruitful.
"Salvation history" needs to be highlighted in the exegesis and interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures, which reveal the unique, divine plan, unfolding over the ages and intimately bound to both the Old and the New Testament, a plan which finds its center and summit in Jesus Christ. Inasmuch as the Bible is the Book of the Christian community, the biblical text can only be correctly interpreted within the Church. Therefore, the Church's tradition and teaching, especially in our Eastern countries, are the indisputable reference-point for understanding and interpreting the Bible.
The Word of God is the source of theology, morality and apostolic and missionary spirituality and vitality. The Word sheds light on life's happenings, thereby transforming, guiding and giving them meaning. Some unthinking or bad-intentioned persons use the Bible as a "recipe book" or a basis for superstitious practices. We have the responsibility to educate our faithful not to give credence to such people. The Word of God also shed's light on communities and personal choices in life, providing responses to the challenges of life, inspiration to ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue and the manner of dutifully approaching political life. The Word of God, therefore, needs to be the reference-point for Christians in education and witness, so as to indicate to people of good the path which leads to the God for whom they are searching.
I. The Catholic Church in the Middle East
A. The Situation of Christians in the Middle East
1. A brief historical sketch: Unity in Diversity (nn. 13-18)
Knowledge of the history of Christianity in the Middle East is important for us, as it is for the rest of the Christian world. In these very lands, God chose and guided the patriarchs, Moses and the People of the Old Covenant. Here, he spoke through the prophets, judges, kings and women of faith. In the fullness of time, Jesus Christ, the Savior became man and lived in these lands, choosing and forming his disciples and accomplishing his work of salvation. The Church of Jerusalem, born on the day of Pentecost, gave rise to the particular Churches, which continued — and continue today — the work of Christ in time, through the action of the Holy Spirit and under the guidance of the Holy Father, the Successor of Peter.
After initial, minor conflicts, the Church underwent successive divisions during the Councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451). Thus were born the "Apostolic Assyrian Church of the East", and the "Eastern Orthodox Churches": Coptic, Syrian and Armenian. During the 11th century, the Great Schism between Constantinople and Rome occurred. These divisions, based on theological controversies, were mainly the result of political-cultural factors. To assist ecumenical dialogue, historical and theological studies need to focus more on these tragic periods and events.
As bitter fruits from the past, all these divisions still exist today in our countries. Thanks be to God that the Spirit is working in the Churches to fulfil Christ's prayer: "that they may all be one... so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (Jn 17:21).
2. Apostolicity and the Missionary Vocation (nn. 19-23)
Our Churches, blessed by the presence of Christ and the Apostles, were the cradle of Christianity and the home of the first generations of Christians. For this reason, our Churches are called to keep alive the memory of the Church's beginnings, to strengthen the faith of their members and to renew in them the spirit of the Gospel, so that God's Word might guide their lives and relations with others, both Christians and non-Christians alike.
Apostolic in origin, our Churches have, in turn, the particular mission of cooperating in the proclamation of the Gospel. Studying the missionary history of our Churches would help stimulate this evangelical effort, which characterised our beginnings. "Being missionary" is necessarily our duty, which arises from our Churches' roots and from our rich and varied patrimonies. What we have received, we must freely give to all in need. Our Churches must undertake the task of renewing within themselves the evangelical missionary effort. Becoming more open to the power of the Spirit will help us share with our fellow citizens the riches of love and the light of hope (cf. Rom 5:5). In fact, "We are, in the society we live in, a sign of the presence of God in our world. This invites us to be 'with', 'in', and 'for' the society we live in. It is an essential requirement of our faith, of our vocation and of our mission".1 "The Church cannot be measured statistically by numbers, but by the living conscience its children have of their vocation and their mission".2
To ensure the future of our Communities, the Pastors must specially devote themselves to encouraging vocations through effective and suitable pastoral programmes, aimed particularly towards the young and families. While rendering thanks to God for the vocations in our Churches, we acknowledge that some dioceses and eparchies are seriously in need of them. Perhaps we need to begin assuming our duty of "being missionary" within the eparchies and dioceses of our Churches in the region. The good example of priests and women and men religious, who are devout, content, edifying and united in fellowship, is the best manner of attracting young people to totally consecrate themselves to God. This Synod could be the occasion to review the programmes, methods and way of life in seminaries and houses of formation.
Coordination and mutual aid among congregations, religious orders and Bishops is of great assistance in generating vocations. We must also search for appropriate means in supporting and fortifying congregations and institutes of consecrated life. While encouraging contemplative life where it exists, we must, through prayer, prepare the terrain for the Spirit's activity, if we are to bring about contemplative communities where they do not exist. The religious orders in our countries could take the initiative to establish communities in other countries and places in the region.
3. The role of Christians in society, although a small minority (nn. 24-31)
Our societies, despite their differences, have certain characteristics in common: an attachment to tradition, a traditional way of life, confessionalism and a uniqueness based on religious affiliation. These factors provide bridges and a point of union between peoples, but they can also be a source of alienation and division. Christians are "native citizens" in their countries, members with full rights in their civic communities. They consider themselves "at home", and have oftentimes lived in countries for a considerable length of time. Their presence and participation in the life of a country are a valuable commodity to be protected and maintained. A positive laicity would permit an effective and fruitful contribution of the Church and help strengthen the idea of citizenship, founded on the principles of equality and democracy, for every person in the country.
In her pastoral, cultural and social activity, the Church needs to utilise, increasingly and in a more effective manner, modern technology and the means of social communications. Specialised persons should be formed with this in mind. Eastern Christians should commit themselves to working for the common good, in all its aspects, as they always have done. They can help create the social conditions that can foster the development of personality and society, in collaboration with the efforts of political authorities. Although they are a small minority in many countries, their dynamism is inspiring and much appreciated. They need to be supported and encouraged to maintain this attitude, even in difficult circumstances. While resisting the temptation towards a ghetto mentality, these persons could be greatly assisted by strengthening not only their life of faith but also their social ties and bonds of solidarity.
Through the presentation of the social doctrine of the Church, our communities offer a valuable contribution to building society. Promotion of the family and the defence of life need to be central in our Church's teaching and mission programmes. Education is a privileged part of our activity and a major investment. As much as possible, our schools need to provide more assistance to those less fortunate among us. Through their social, healthcare and charitable activities, accessible to all members of society, schools collaborate in a real way for the common good. This is possible thanks to the generosity of local Churches and the magnanimity of the universal Church. To ensure her evangelical credibility, the Church needs to find the means to guarantee transparency in the management of finances and to establish appropriate means to clearly distinguish what belongs to the Church and what belongs personally to those in service of the Church.
B. The Challenges Facing Christians
1. Political conflicts in the Region (nn. 32-35)
The socio-political situations of our countries directly affect Christians, who more deeply feel their negative aspects. In the Palestinian Territories, life is very difficult and often unsustainable. The position of Christian Arabs is a very delicate one. While condemning 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 situation today is particularly conducive to the rise of fundamentalism. Listening to the voice of local Christians could help in better understanding the situation. Consideration should be given to the important status of the city of Jerusalem for the three religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
It is regrettable that world politics does not sufficiently take into account the plight of Christians in Iraq, who are the primary victims of the war and its consequences. In Lebanon, greater unity between Christians would help ensure greater stability in the country. In Egypt, the Churches would greatly benefit from coordinating their efforts in strengthening the faith of the faithful and collaborating in works for the good of the country. According to the means available in each country, Christians should foster democracy, justice, peace and a "positive laicity" which distinguishes between the State and religion and respects all religions. Both the Church and society need to respond positively and dutifully.
2. Freedom of religion and conscience (nn. 36-40)
Human rights, the foundation guaranteeing the good of every human person and the criteria for all political systems, flows from the order of creation itself. He who does not respect God's creation according to the order established by Him, does not respect the Creator. The promotion of human rights requires peace, justice and stability.
Religious freedom is an essential component of human rights. Freedom of worship is but one aspect of freedom of religion. In most of our countries, freedom of worship is guaranteed by the constitution. But even in this case, certain laws or practices in some countries limit its application. Another aspect is freedom of conscience, based on a person's free will. Its absence impedes freedom of choice in those who wish to follow the Gospel, yet fear various acts of harassment to themselves and their families. Freedom of conscience can develop and exist only in relation to the growth of respect for human rights in their completeness and entirety.
In this regard, education towards greater justice and equality under the law is a precious contribution to the cultural progress of a country. The Catholic Church firmly condemns all proselytism. Perhaps some profit can result from calmly considering these questions at various places and on given occasions of dialogue in each country. The Church's many educational institutions at our disposal are a privileged place in this matter. Health centres and social services are also an eloquent witness of love for one's neighbour, without distinction or discrimination. Promoting days, events and celebrations dedicated to these topics, on the local and international level, helps spread and reinforce the positive aspects of culture, which should also be propagated by the mass media.
3. Christians and the evolution of contemporary Islam (nn. 41-42)
Since 1970, we have witnessed the rise of political Islam in the region, consisting of many different religious currents, which has affected Christians, especially in the Arab world. This phenomenon seeks to impose the Islamic way of life on all citizens, at times using violent methods, thus becoming a threat which we must face together.
4. Emigration (nn. 43-48)
Emigration in the Middle East began towards the end of the 19th century for political and economic reasons. In some case, religious conflict during some tragic periods was the cause. Today, emigration in our countries has increased primarily as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq, adverse political and economic situations, the rise of Muslim fundamentalism and the restriction of freedom and equality. Young people, educated people and affluent people form the majority of those leaving, thus depriving the Church and the country of valuable resources.
Those in political life need to strengthen peace, democracy and development, so as to favour a climate of stability and trust. Christians, with all people of good will, are called upon to commit themselves to achieving this goal. A greater sensitivity to international bodies, whose duty is to contribute to the development of our countries, could greatly help in this matter. The particular Churches in the western world could provide a beneficial and effective influence in this activity. The Pastors need to make the faithful more aware of their historical role as bearers of the message of Christ in their countries, despite difficulties or persecution. Their absence could seriously affect the future. A defeatist attitude or encouraging emigration as a preferred choice need to be avoided.
At the same time, emigration brings notable support to the Middle Eastern countries and the Churches. The Church in the country of origin must seek to maintain strong ties with the emigrating faithful and ensure their spiritual assistance. It is essential to provide the Liturgy, in their respective rites to the faithful of the Eastern Churches who find themselves in Latin territories. The sale of property in the country of origin is a great tragedy, since maintaining the property, or even acquiring land, could serve as an incentive to return. The communities of the Diaspora have the task of promoting and consolidating the Christian presence in the Middle East by strengthening Christian witness and supporting causes for the good of the country or the region. Appropriate pastoral activity should take into account emigration within the country.
5. Immigration of Christians to the Middle East from the world over (nn. 49-50)
Middle Eastern countries are undergoing a new phenomenon, namely the arrival of many immigrant workers from Africa and Asia, the majority of which are women. Often they are faced with injustice and abuse to the point that international laws and conventions are violated. Our Churches must make a greater effort to help them by welcoming them and providing religious and social guidance through appropriate pastoral care in a coordinated effort among Bishops, religious congregations and social and charitable organisations.
C. The Response of Christians in Daily Life (nn. 51-53)
No matter what the circumstances, the appropriate response in all instances is Christian witness. From the beginning, monastic life has had an important role in Christian witness. In the contemplative life, the act of praying fulfills the mission of intercession on behalf of the Church and society.
Perfecting Christian witness, by seeking to follow Jesus Christ more and more, is a requirement for every Church member: clergy, members of religious orders, congregations and institutes and societies of apostolic life, not to mention lay people, each according to one's vocation. The formation of the clergy and the faithful, homilies and catechesis must be concerned with strengthening and more deeply developing the meaning of faith and its role and mission in society and supplying the means of translating this faith into acts of witness. For ecclesial renewal to be achieved requires: conversion and purification, spiritual depth and determining the priorities of life and mission.
Special emphasis must given to highlighting and training key-persons and groups at all levels, so that they can be models of witnessing, and thereby provide support and encouragement to their brothers and sisters, especially during difficult times. These persons and groups should be so formed that they can properly present the tenets of Christianity to Christians with little contact with the Church or distant from it as well as to non-Christians. The quality of the these key-people is more important than their number. Ongoing formation is indispensable. Special attention must be focused on young persons who are the strength of the present moment and the hope of the future. Christians must be encouraged to take part in public life with the purpose of building civic society.
II. Ecclesial Communion
Diversity in the Catholic Church, far from a detriment, is a source of enhancement. The mystery of the Holy Trinity is the foundation of Christian communion. The Church is the Mystery and the Sacrament of Communion. Love is at the centre of this reality: "This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you (Jn 15:12). Continuously faced with the challenges of pluralism, we are called to a constant conversion, passing from a mentality of confessionalism to an authentic sense of the Church.
A. Communion in the Catholic Church and among the different Churches (nn. 55-56)
The principal signs that manifest communion in the Catholic Church are: Baptism, the Eucharist and communion with the Bishop of Rome, Coryphaeus of the Apostles (hâmat ar-Rusul). The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (CCEC) regulates the canonical aspects of this communion, accompanied and assisted by the Congregation for the Eastern Churches and the various Roman Dicasteries.
Among the Catholic Churches in the Middle East, communion is manifested by the Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the Middle East (CCPO). The Council's pastoral letters are documents of great worth and very timely in their content. In each country, communion is reinforced by the assemblies of Patriarchs and Bishops or by Episcopal Conferences. In a spirit of brotherhood and cooperation, they study shared concerns, provide directives for Christian witness and coordinate pastoral activities. Hopefully, a regional assembly can be established which gathers the episcopate of the Middle East at intervals determined by the Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the Middle East. Although the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris are open to every Catholic, one must carefully seek to avoid causing anyone to leave their Church of origin.
Moreover, emphasis needs to be placed on relations among our Eastern Churches and the Churches of the Latin tradition ("Western Church"). We need each other. We need their prayers, solidarity and long, rich spiritual, theological and cultural experience. At the same time, they too need our prayers, our example of faithfulness to the rich, varied heritage of our beginnings and our unity in variety and multiplicity. "The ancient living treasure of the traditions of the Eastern Churches enriches the universal Church and could never be understood simply as objects to be passively preserved".3 Communion between the Churches does not mean uniformity but mutual love and an exchange of gifts.
B. Communion among the Bishops, Clergy and faithful (nn. 57-62)
In one's Church, communion is achieved by following the model of communion with the universal Church and the Bishop of Rome. In the Patriarchal Church, this communion is expressed through the Synod of Bishops with the Patriarch, the Father and Head of his Church. In the Eparchy, communion is manifested through the Bishop, who must keep watch over the harmony of the gathering. Structures for these work-groups and pastoral coordination could help reinforce communion, which can only be achieved on the basis of spiritual means, notably prayer, the Eucharist and the Word of God. The Pastors, consecrated persons, animators and diocesan and parish authorities have the grave duty of being examples and models for others. This Synod provides the opportunity to make a serious assessment of life in the light of a fruitful conversion, while considering as a model the primitive Christian community: "Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul" (Acts 4:32).
Participation of the lay faithful in the life and mission of the Church is an indispensable presupposition for communion. Present structures might perhaps hide a certain temptation for them to remain passive, or give the idea that these roles are exclusively for the Church's leaders. Lay persons, however, need to participate effectively in reflection, the making of decisions and carrying out the task at hand. In union with the Pastors, their valid and positive pastoral initiatives should be encouraged as well as their commitment to society. The place and the role of women in the Church, whether religious or lay, must be broadened and developed. Pastoral, parish, diocesan and national councils need to be developed. International associations and movements need to adapt better to the mentality, traditions, culture and language of the Church and country which welcomes them, and work in close coordination with the local Bishop. Integration in the Eastern tradition is greatly recommended. This equally applies to religious congregations of western origin.
III. Christian witness
A. Witnessing in the Church: Catechesis
1. A Catechesis for our times, by Properly prepared members of the faithful (nn. 62-64)
To be a Christian means to be a witness of Jesus Christ, a witness who is animated and guided by the Holy Spirit. The Church exists to bear witness to her Lord, who is the centre of her proclamation. This witness is communicated by means of exemplary living, good works and catechesis, especially though initiation in the faith and the sacraments. The Church must address her message to all age groups — children, youth and adults alike. After due preparation, young people can be good catechists to their siblings. Well-prepared parents need to participate in catechetical activities in both their families and parishes. Catholic schools, apostolic associations and movements are the privileged places for teaching the faith.
The presence and assistance of a spiritual director among young persons and other age groups serve as a valuable assistance in religious formation by emphasizing the proper application of faith to the concrete instances of life. In parishes as well as educational and spiritual institutions, religious formation needs to be given its proper place and take into account the real problems and challenges of today. The formation of those who teach the faith should be guaranteed. Without the witness of their lives, the teaching of catechists remains fruitless, because they are primarily witnesses of the Gospel. Catechesis should also promote moral and social values, respect for others, a culture of peace and non-violence as well as a commitment towards justice and the environment. The social doctrine of the Church, at present somewhat lacking, is an integral part of formation in the faith.
2. Catechetical methods (nn. 65-69)
Today, catechetical activity cannot be limited to oral communication only; actions are necessary. Children and young persons are naturally disposed to group participation, for example, in the Liturgy, sports, choirs, scouts and other activities. Such opportunities for group participation need to be provided where they are non-existent. How-become merely social activities without a place for formation in the faith. The new media are very effective in proclaiming and bearing witness to the Gospel. Our Churches need people specialized in these areas. Perhaps we could help form those who are more talented in this area and hire them for this task. In Lebanon, "The Voice of Charity" (Sawt al-Mahabba) and Télé-Lumière/Noursat provide a great service to Christians in our region and are also heard and seen on other continents. Other countries in the area have undertaken similar initiatives, which should be given support and encouragement.
Catechesis must take into account the situation of conflict in the countries of the Middle East and seek to strengthen the faithful in their faith and form them so that they can live the commandment of love and be artisans of peace, justice and forgiveness. Commitment in public life is a duty which requires witness and a mission to build the Kingdom of God. This work demands a formation that goes beyond confessionalism, sectarianism and internal quarrels and sees God's face in each individual and collaborates with others in building a future of peace, stability and well-being.
B. A Renewed Liturgy faithful to tradition (nn. 70-75)
Liturgy "is the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows".4 In our Eastern Churches, the Divine Liturgy is at the cnetre of religious life. It plays an important role in maintaining Christian identity, strengthening a sense of belonging to the Church and animating a life of faith. The celebration of the Divine Liturgy is also a source of attraction to those who may be far from the faith or even disbelievers. Consequently, the Liturgy is an important part of the proclamation and witness of a Church which not only prays, but acts.
A great many people are deeply desiring liturgical renewal, which, while remaining faithful to tradition, would take into account modern sensitivities as well as today's spiritual and pastoral needs. The work of liturgical reform would require a commission of experts. Perhaps some usefulness might result from adapting liturgical texts to celebrations with children and youth, while remaining faithful to each Church's heritage. This could be the work of an interdisciplinary group of experts. Some look for liturgical renewal in the area of devotional practices. Whatever the case, adaptation and reform must consider the ecumenical aspect. The particularly delicate question of communicatio in sacris requires special study.
C. Ecumenism (nn. 76-84)
"May they all be one... that the world may believe" (Jn 17:21). Christ's prayer must be repeated by his disciples throughout the ages. The division of Christians is contrary to the will of Christ, a scandal and an obstacle to proclamation and witness. Mission and ecumenism are closely aligned. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches have many elements in common to the point that Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI speak about an 'almost complete communion', which deserves greater recognition rather than differences. Baptism is the basis of relations with the other Churches and ecclesial communities which allows and even calls for many activities and initiatives in common. Religious instruction should expressly include ecumenism. Any offensive or troubling publications should be carefully avoided.
Sincere efforts should be made to overcome prejudices, better understand each other and seek full communion in the faith, sacraments and hierarchical service. This dialogue takes place on various levels. On the official level, the Holy See embarks on many initiatives with the Eastern Churches, representatives of which are participating at this synodal assembly. A new form of practice of primacy, without abandoning what is essential to the mission of the Bishop of Rome, must be found.5 A hopeful sign would be to establish local commissions of ecumenical dialogue. Studying the history of the Eastern Catholic Churches, as well as that of the Church of the Latin tradition, would permit the opportunity to clarify the context, attitudes and perspectives associated with their origin.
Proper actions are required in the work of ecumenicism: prayer, conversion, sanctification and the mutual exchange of gifts, all in a spirit of respect, friendship, mutual charity, solidarity and collaboration. These actions and attitudes should be cultivated and encouraged through teaching and the various media outlets. An essential part of ecumenism is dialogue, which requires a positive approach to understanding, listening and being open to others. This leads to overcoming mistrust, working together to develop religious values, joining in socially useful projects and facing together problems in common.
Initiatives and structures which express and support unity need to be further encouraged, such as, the Council of Churches of the Middle East and the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The 'purification of memory' is an important step in seeking full unity. Collaboration and cooperation in biblical, theological, patristic and cultural studies foster the spirit of dialogue. Action in common could take place in the formation of media experts in the local languages. In both proclamation and mission, proselytism and anything opposed to the Gospel should be carefully avoided. Further efforts are needed in the work of establishing dates in common for the celebration of Christmas and Easter.
D. Relations with Judaism
1. Vatican II: The Theological Basis for Relations with Judaism (nn. 85-87)
The Declaration Nostra Aetate of the Second Vatican Council specifically deals with the relations between the Church and non-Christian religions. Judaism holds an important place in these relations. This document was written in the context of both the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium and the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum. The first asserts that the People of the Old Testament were the recipients of covenants and promises and that Jesus Christ was born, according to the flesh, from this People which continues in that of the New Alliance and which points to the Old Testament pre-figurations of the Church. The second constitution considers the Old Testament as a preparation for the Gospel and an integral part of salvation history.
2. The Present-Day Magisterium of the Church (nn. 88-89)
Based on the above theological principles, certain initiatives for dialogue with Judaism were undertaken by the Holy See and local Churches. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has affected relations between Christians and Jews. Several times, the Holy See has clearly expressed its position, especially during the visit of His Holiness, Pope Benedict to the Holy Land in 2009.
At this time, he asserted the right of the Palestinians to a sovereign state, secure and in peace with its neighbours, within "internationally recognized boundaries".6 The city of Jerusalem "is called the mother of all men. A mother can have many children, she must gather and not divide".7 The Holy Father voiced his hope to the Israelis that the two peoples could live in peace, having their own countries, with secure boundaries, which are internationally recognized.8 He said to the President of the State of Israel: "...lasting security is a matter of trust, nurtured in justice and integrity, and sealed through the conversion of hearts".9
3. The desire and difficulty of dialogue with Judaism (nn. 90-94)
While our Churches denounce every form of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism, they acknowledge that the difficulties in relations between the Arab and Jewish peoples are due to conflicting political situations, which necessitates a distinction between the religious and political reality. Christians are called to be artisans of reconciliation and peace, based on justice for both parties. Local pastoral initiatives for dialogue with Judaism are presently taking place, such as, praying in common, particularly the Psalms, and reading and meditating upon biblical texts.
These initiatives create a willingness to make concerted efforts, calling for peace, reconciliation, mutual forgiveness and good relations. Problems arise when certain biblical verses are erroneously interpreted to justify or foster violence. Reading the Old Testament and becoming more acquainted with Judaic traditions lead to a better understanding of the Jewish religion, thereby offering common ground for serious studies and assistance in better knowing the New Testament and Eastern traditions. Other possibilities for collaboration are also available today.
E. Relations with Muslims (nn. 95-99)
The Declaration Nostra Aetate of the Second Vatican Council also serves as the basis for relations between the Catholic Church and Muslims. It states the following: "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 humankind".10 In the years following the Council, many encounters took place between representatives of both religions. At the beginning of his papacy, Pope Benedict declared: "Interreligious and intercultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims cannot be reduced to an optional extra. It is in fact a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends".11
Later, the Holy Father visited the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey (30 May 2006) and the Al-Hussein Bin Talal Mosque in Amman, Jordan (May 2009). The Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue continues this very important dialogue. We recommend the creation of local commissions for inter-religious dialogue. Primary place needs to be given to what is called "the dialogue of life", which sets an example by an eloquent yet silent witness and which sometimes is the sole way to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Only Christians who are authentic witnesses to the faith can qualify as credible participants in inter-religious dialogue. Our faithful need to be educated in the ways of dialogue.
The reasons to foster relations between Christians and Muslims include: their status as fellow citizens and their sharing the same language and the same culture, not to mention the same joys and sufferings. Furthermore, Christians are called to live as witnesses of Jesus Christ in society. From its beginnings, Islam has found common roots with Christianity and Judaism, as the Holy Father mentioned.12 Arab-Christian literature should be given greater consideration and better valued.
The Islamic religion is not a uniformity, instead the profession of Islam has confessional, cultural and ideological differences. In fact, difficulties in the relations between Christians and Muslims generally arise when Muslims do not distinguish between religion and politics. On this basis, Christians sense an uneasiness at being considered non-citizens, despite the fact that they have called these countries "home" long before Islam. Christians deserve full recognition, passing from being merely tolerated to a just and equal status which is based on common citizenship, religious freedom and human rights. On this basis, harmonious living is guaranteed.
Christians are to become more integrated in the broader society and resist the temptation to retreat into closed minority groups. They need to join others in promoting peace, freedom, human rights, the environment, and the values of life and family. Problems arising from socio-political circumstances need to be faced, not so much as a right to be claimed for Christians as much as a universal right, which Christians and Muslims defend together for the common good. We must emerge from a logic in defence of the rights of Christians only and engage in the defence of the rights of all. With this in mind, young people are to join conscientiously with others in these efforts.
All prejudices concerning others and any offensive talk or argumentation needs to be eliminated from textbooks in schools. Instead, we should try to understand the other's point of view, while respecting differences in beliefs and practices. We should develop common ground, especially in spiritual and moral matters. The Blessed Virgin Mary is a very important meeting point, as exemplified in the recent declaration making the Feast of the Annunciation a national holiday in Lebanon. Religion is the builder of unity and harmony and an expression of communion between individuals and God.
F. Witnessing in society (nn. 100-117)
All citizens in our countries have to face two common challenges: peace and violence. Our experiences of war and conflict are spurning further violence and are being exploited by world terrorist groups. Generally speaking, the West is identified with Christianity, and thus, the choices made by western countries are wrongly taken as those of the Church, despite the fact that today, these governments are secular and increasingly opposed to the principles of the Christian faith. This situation needs to be better understood and further explanation given to the meaning of "a positive laicity" which makes a distinction between politics and religion.
Within this context, each Christian has the duty and mission to speak of and live the values arising from the Gospel. Each one must also spread the word of truth (qawl al-haqq), when confronted with injustice and violence. To be artisans of peace demands great courage. Praying for peace is indispensable, since peace is primarily a gift of God.
1. The ambiguity of 'modernity' (nn. 103-105)
The influence of modernisation, globalisation and secularisation in our societies has an effect on the members of our Churches. Modernity totally permeates all aspects of our societies, especially as a result of the TV networks of the world and the Internet. While the phenomenon introduces new values, others are lost in the process, thus making it an ambiguous reality. On the one hand, modernity has a sense of attraction with its promises of well-being and the liberation from traditions, of equality, of the defence of human rights and of protection for the vulnerable. On the other hand, many Muslims view modernity as atheistic, immoral and invasive, disturbing and threatening cultures to the point that many are aggressively fighting against it.
Modernity is a threat also for Christians, bringing the dangers of materialism, practical atheism, relativism and indifference and threatening our families, our societies and our Churches. As a result, we need to form individuals, through our teaching institutions and the media, in knowing how to discern and choose only what is best. We must be always mindful of the place of God in our lives, as persons, families, Churches and societies, and devote ourselves more to prayer.
2. Muslims and Christians must pursue a common path together (nn. 106-110)
We all have the duty as citizens, Muslims and Christians alike, to work together for the common good. Christians have an added motivation by reason of their mission to contribute to building a society more in keeping with Gospel-values, especially as regards justice, peace and love. In doing this, we follow in the footsteps of generations of Christians, who, through their example, have played an essential role in the building of societies. Many were pioneers in the renaissance of Arab nations and culture. Today also, despite their limited numbers, the role of Christians is acknowledged and appreciated, especially in the areas of education and the promotion of culture and social programmes. We should encourage the lay members of our Churches to make an even greater commitment in society.
Every national constitution of the countries in the Middle East affirms the equality of all citizens. However, in States with a Muslim majority, apart from some exceptions, Islam is the State religion and the sharia is the main source of legislation. As for the status of a person, some countries have special statutes for non-Muslims and recognize the jurisdiction of their courts in this regard. Others apply special statutes to non-Muslims in their ordinary courts. Freedom of worship is recognized but not freedom of conscience. With the increasing growth of fundamentalism, attacks against Christians are on the rise.
G. The specific and unique contribution of Christians (nn. 111-117)
The specific contribution of Christians in the society in which they live is irreplaceable. Through their witness and actions, they enrich society with the values brought by Christ to humanity. Since many of these values are shared in common with Muslims, the interest and possibility exist to promote them together. Catechesis must form believers to be active citizens. A commitment to social programmes and civic life, devoid of Gospel values, is a counter-witness.
In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Christians can and must make a specific contribution by bringing justice and peace to bear, in denouncing every kind of violence, encouraging dialogue and calling for reconciliation based on mutual forgiveness, which comes from the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the only way to bring about a new reality. As part of their mission, Christians are also to assist those who suffer as a result of conflicts and help them open their hearts to the action of the Holy Spirit.
The contribution of Gospel-values by Christians depends on the situation in each country. Primarily, Christians need to be taught to view contributing to the common good as a sacred duty. They are to work with others for peace, development and harmonious living. They are to make efforts to promote freedom, responsibility and good citizenship, so that people are respected as individuals and not for their religion or social status. They are also to demand, by using peaceful means, respect for and the recognition of their rights.
Our most important witness in society is our love for others, which is freely given. This love is expressed and lived in our teaching, medical, social and charitable institutions by welcoming and providing service to the whole of humanity without distinction. Service on behalf of others is a specific characteristic of our identity as Christians and not to our belonging to a particular confession. Our primary task is to live the faith and allow our actions to speak; to live the truth 'and proclaim it with charity and courage; and to practice solidarity in our institutions. We must live a mature faith — not a superficial one — supported and animated by prayer. Our credibility requires harmony within the Church, the promotion of unity among Christians and a religious life of conviction, which translates into a good life. This eloquent witness demands education and ongoing guidance for children, young people and adults.
What does the future hold for Christians in the Middle East? "Do not be afraid. O little flock!"
A. What lies ahead for Middle Eastern Christians? (nn. 118-119)
Present-day situations give rise to difficulties and concerns. However, empowered by the Holy Spirit and guided by the Gospel, we can face them with hope and filial trust in Divine Providence. Today, though we are not numerically significant in the region, our actions and witness can make us a considerable presence. In the Middle East, conflicts and local problems, as well as international politics, have led to imbalance, violence and flight to other lands. This is the primary reason for our responding to our vocation and engaging in our mission as witnesses in service to society.
Faced with the temptation of discouragement, we need to remind ourselves that we are disciples of the Risen Christ, the Conqueror of Sin and Death. He repeats to us: "Do not be afraid, O little flock!" (Lk 12:32). Through him, with him and in him, we indeed have a future! Our responsibility is to securely grasp it, in collaboration with all people of good will, for the sake of the vitality of our Churches and the growth of our nations in justice, peace and equality. "God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but the Spirit of power and love and self-control" (2 Tim 1:7). We are guided by faith in our calling and the mission, entrusted us by the Lord, knowing full well that he is committed to us, to our being artisans of peace and to creating a culture of peace and love.
B. Hope (nn. 120-123)
Jesus Christ, born in the Holy Land, is the sole bearer of true hope for humanity. Since his first coming, this sure hope has strengthened and supported individuals and entire peoples in their moments of suffering. This hope remains the source of faith, charity and joy, even amidst today's difficulties and challenges, in the formation of those who bear witness to the Risen Christ, who is present among us. With him and through him, we can bear our cross and our suffering. Moreover, hope gives us the strength to be "God's fellow workers" (1 Cor 3:9) and to contribute to the construction of the Kingdom of God on earth. In this way, we build a better future for generations to come.
This work requires more faith, more communion and more love on our part. Our Churches need believers-witnesses among the Pastors as well as among the rest of the Church's members. The proclamation of the Good News can only be fruitful, if Bishops, priests, consecrated men and women and the laity are on fire with the love of Christ and zealously seek to make him known and loved. We are confident that this Synod will not simply be a passing event, but one which will truly allow the Spirit to move our Churches.
On 12 May 2009, in Jerusalem, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict addressed the following words to Christians in the Holy Land: "You are called to serve not only as a beacon of faith to the universal Church, but also as a leaven of harmony, wisdom and equilibrium in the life of a society which has traditionally been, and continues to be, pluralistic, multi-ethnic and multi-religious".13
Let us implore the Holy Virgin Mary, who is honoured and beloved in our Churches, to form our hearts after the example of the Heart of her Son, Jesus and put her words into action: "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).
1 Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the Middle East, Second Pastoral Letter on the Vocation of the Churches of the East: "The Christian Presence in the East, Mission and Witness", General Secretariat, Bkerké, 1992.
2 Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the Middle East, first Pastoral Letter "Message of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East", General Secretariat, Bkerké, 1991.
3 Benedict XVI, Apostolic Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Discourse to Consecrated Persons and Members of Church Movements (9 May 2009), Amman, Jordan: L'Osservatore Romano weekly Edition in English, 20 May 2009, p. 6.
4 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10.
5 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ut Unum Sint (25 May 1995), 95: AAS
87 (1995) 977-978.
6 Cf. Benedict , Apostolic Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Discourse during the Welcoming Ceremony at Bethlehem (13 May 2009): L'Osservatore Romano weekly Edition in English, 20 May 2009, p. 11.
7 Custos of the Holy Land, Comments during Holy Mass in the Valley of Josephat in Jerusalem (12 May 2009).
8 Cf. Benedict XVI, Apostolic Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Discourse at Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv (11 May 2009): L'Osservatore Romano weekly Edition in English, 20 May 2009, p. 3.
9 Benedict XVI, Apostolic Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Discourse to the President of Israel (11 May 2009): L'Osservatore Romano weekly Edition in English, 20 May 2009, p. 3.
10 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Declaration on the Church's Relations with Non-Christian Religions Nostra Aetate, 3.
11 Benedict XVI, Discourse to Representatives from Various Muslim Communities (Cologne, 20 August 2005): L'Osservatore Romano weekly Edition in English, 24 August 2005, p. 9.
12 Cf. Benedict XVI, Apostolic Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Meeting with Journalists during the Flight (8 May 2009): L'Osservatore Romano weekly Edition in English, 20 May 2009, p. 2.
13 Benedict XVI, Apostolic Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Homily to Christians in the Holy Land (12 May 2009): L'Osservatore Romano weekly Edition in English, 20 May 2009, p. 6.
Weekly Edition in English
20 October 2010, page 18
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