The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Middle East Synod of Bishops

You might not know about it because it hasn't received a lot of press in the secular media, but the Vatican is currently hosting a special synod of Middle Eastern bishops. The synod, which began today, will reflect on the theme, "The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness." Among the synod's objectives is to strengthen Christian identity and promote ecumenism among Christians in Muslim countries.

Shortly after the synod's opening liturgy, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the crowd in St. Peter's Square, telling them,

"This extraordinary synodal gathering, which will last two weeks, will see the meeting in Rome of the pastors of the Church that lives in the Middle East, a very diverse reality. In that land, in fact, the one Church of Christ expresses herself in all the wealth of her ancient traditions...In fact, in those countries, unfortunately marked by profound divisions and lacerations by age-old conflicts, the Church is called to be the sign and instrument of unity and of reconciliation, on the model of the first community of Jerusalem, in which 'the multitude of those who had become Christian were of one heart and one soul' (Acts 4:32)."
172 Catholic bishops from the Middle East, virtually all from Islamic countries, are taking part in the synod. The are joined by several dozen academics and other experts, plus a number of curial officials and 14 representatives of other Christian churches. In the words of the Holy Father they are confronted by "an arduous task since the Christians of the Middle East often find themselves having to endure difficult conditions of life at the personal, familial and communal levels."

These "difficult conditions" have caused Christians to flee the Middle East in huge numbers. Bishop Shlemon Warduni, an auxiliary bishop of the Catholic Chaldean Church in Iraq, expanded on the pope's comments when he stated, “The urgent reasons for this meeting are that Christians are fleeing from the Middle East, and extremist Islamism is invading the area. We need to find a dialogue with Muslims, and unity among Christians." This flight of Christians is particularly evident in Iraq where the Christian population has decreased from 1.2 million to 400,000 since 1987.

The working document for the synod is based on the responses to a detailed questionnaire submitted by the participants. The document states that  "Relations with Muslims are difficult principally because Muslims make no distinction between religion and politics, thereby relegating Christians to precarious positions of being considered non-citizens despite the fact that they were citizens of these countries long before the rise of Islam.”

Speaking of the synod earlier today, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, explained that...

"The Middle East is a region in which Christians are a minority, in some countries a very small one and without any political or social influence, and in [some] of these countries the situation of war or permanent tension weighs on hope for the future and marginalizes it. But it is also the region where Christianity was born, where it has very ancient traditional roots of extraordinary cultural and spiritual richness. Thus the problems of the Churches in the Middle East interest all of us and involve of us, and this is why the Pope convoked this assembly, which for the first time is dedicated not to a theme or a continent or individual country, but to a specific region of the world."
The following video provides an overview of the synod...


Pray for the Christians in the Middle East and for the success of the synod.

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