VATICAN CITY, 13 OCT 2010 (VIS) - The Fifth General Congregation of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops was held this afternoon in the Vatican's Synod Hall. The president delegate on duty was Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. The Synod Fathers' speeches were followed by a period of free discussion during which the Holy Father was also present.
Extracts from some of today's contributions are given below:HIS BEATITUDE NERSES BEDROS XIX TARMOUNI, PATRIARCH OF CILICIA OF THE ARMENIANS, LEBANON. "Looking back to the first Christian community we see that the first Christians did not have an easy life, nor were they exempt from difficulties and adversities; quite the contrary, they endured outrage and persecutions. But this did not prevent them from proclaiming the teachings of Jesus integrally, or from practicing forgiveness. We find similar situations in our own times. Christians not enlightened by the Holy Spirit think they should be spared difficulties. It is important to point this out, and in this sense to re-evangelise our faithful by presenting them the faith as it was lived during the first centuries of Christianity. This does not mean that we should not fight to re-establish justice and peace in the Middle East. But it would be wrong to consider that, without justice and peace, Christians cannot fully live their faith, or that they must emigrate. Moreover, nobody emigrates to look for a better Christian life. The principal concern of convinced Christians - who by virtue of their Baptism are called to bear witness to their faith and lead a Christian life in the community - is not searching for material wellbeing and peace, or fleeing problems that threaten their own and their family's serenity. On the contrary, following the example of ... their ancestors in the Middle East, they must work together with their Christian brethren to bear witness through life and through example, to make Jesus' message of love more convincing".
BISHOP PAUL HINDER O.F.M. CAP., APOSTOLIC VICAR OF ARABIA, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. "The two vicariates of the Arabian peninsula, comprising Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, U.A.E., Oman, Yemen and Saudi Arabia, have no native Christians. The three million Catholics in a population of sixty-five million inhabitants are all labour migrants from a hundred nations, the majority from the Philippines and India. About eighty percent are of Latin Rite, the others belong to the Eastern Catholic Churches. Both apostolic vicars are of Latin Rite, and the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin has the 'ius commissionis' for the territory. Two thirds of the eighty priests are Capuchin Friars from India, the Philippines, Europe and America, belonging to different rites. ... There are strict immigration laws (restricting the number of priests). ... 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 ELIE BECHARA HADDAD B.S. OF SAIDA OF THE GREEK-MELKITES, LEBANON. "The sale of Christian land in Lebanon is becoming a dangerous phenomenon. It threatens the Christian presence to the point of reducing it to a minimum in the future. To resolve this question we propose: (1) Creating a strategy of solidarity between Churches, sponsored by the Holy See. (2) Modifying the discourse of the Church towards Islam, to distinguish clearly between Islam and fundamentalism. This will facilitate our dialogue with Muslims and help us persevere in our own land. (3) Going from the concept of aid for Middle Eastern Christians to the concept of development, thus rooting them more firmly in their land. ... In this context, our own experience in the diocese of Saida is has been emblematic".
BISHOP ANTOINE AUDO OF ALEPPO OF THE CHALDEANS, SYRIA. "Despite the decrease in the number of vocations, candidates should be tested before being admitted to the seminary. Seminarians should be taught the profound meaning of each liturgy and so become able to open themselves to the universality of the Church. Our theological foundation should be Vatican Council II, so as to answer the question of modernity in the Arab-Muslim context, giving special attention to the correct use of the Arabic language. Finally, in keeping with the advice of Benedict XVI, we must give importance to solid and vibrant doctrinal formation, translating it into daily life. In the pastoral dimension we must learn to preach, catechise, accompany families, listen to confessions. ... Another important element is pastoral and spiritual accompaniment during the practice of priestly ministry. ... We must look objectively at the needs of priests, and seek transparent accountability in dioceses, helping develop trust between priests and faithful. The Congregation for the Eastern Churches should help each patriarchate and diocese to create a system of healthcare and retirement insurance. The resources are there, competence and rigour are lacking".
ARCHBISHOP BERHANEYESUS DEMEREW SOURAPHIEL C.M. OF ADDIS ABEBA, ETHIOPIA, PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL OF THE ETHIOPIAN CHURCH, AND PRESIDENT OF THE EPISCOPAL CONFERENCE OF ETHIOPIA AND ERITREA. "Ethiopia has about eighty million inhabitants, half of whom are below the age of twenty-five. The great challenge which the country faces is poverty and its consequences, such as unemployment. Many young people, aspiring to escape poverty, attempt to emigrate, by any means. Those who emigrate to the Middle East are mostly young women who go legally or illegally to seek employment as domestic workers because most of them lack professional training. In order, to facilitate their journey, the Christians change their Christian names to Muslim names, and dress as Muslims so that their visas can be processed easily. In this way, Christians are indirectly forced to deny their Christian roots and heritage. ... Even if there are exceptions where workers are treated well and with kindness, the great majority suffer exploitation and abuse. ... 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? Many Ethiopians turn to the Catholic Churches of the Middle East for assistance and counselling. I would like to thank the Catholic hierarchies in the Middle East who are doing their best to assist victims of abuse and exploitation. We are grateful, for example, for the great work of Caritas Lebanon. Modern migration is looked upon as 'modern slavery'. But let us remember that today's migrants are tomorrow's citizens and leaders either in their host countries or in their home countries".
The general congregation of the Synod of Bishops was then addressed by a guest specially invited by the Holy Father: Rabbi David Rosen, adviser to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and director for inter-religious affairs of the American Jewish Committee and the Heilbrunn Institute for International Inter-religious Understanding. Rabbi Rosen focused his remarks on the subject of Jewish-Christian relations and the Middle East.
Extracts of his speech are given below:
"The relationship today between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people is a blessed transformation in our times - arguably without historic parallel. In his words in the great synagogue here in Rome last January, Pope Benedict XVI referred to the teaching of the Vatican Council II as 'a clear landmark to which constant reference is made in our attitude and our relations with the Jewish people, marking a new and significant stage'.
Until recently most of Israeli society has been quite unaware of the profound changes in Catholic-Jewish relations. However this situation has begun to alter significantly in the last decade for different reasons, but two in particular are especially noteworthy. The first is the impact of the visit of the late Pope John Paul II in the year 2000, following the establishment of full bilateral relations between Israel, and the Holy See six years earlier. ... It was the power of the visual images, the significance of which Pope John Paul II understood so well, that revealed clearly to the majority of Israeli society the transformation that had taken place in Christian attitudes and teaching towards the Jewish People with whom the Pope himself had maintained and further sought mutual friendship and respect. For Israelis to see the Pope at the Western Wall, the remnant of the Second Temple, standing there in respect for Jewish tradition and placing there the text that he had composed for a liturgy of forgiveness that had taken place two weeks earlier here at St. Peter's, asking Divine forgiveness for sins committed against the Jews down the ages, was stunning and overwhelming in its effect. Israeli Jewry still has a long way to go in overcoming the negative past, but there is no question that attitudes have changed since that historic visit".
"The other major factor is the influx of other Christians who have doubled the demographic make-up of Christianity in Israel. I refer first of all to the estimated approximately fifty thousand practicing Christians who were part and parcel of the immigration to Israel in the last two decades from the former Soviet Union. ... However there is a third significant Christian population in Israel whose legal standing is sometimes problematic. These are the scores of thousands of practicing Christians among almost a quarter of a million of migrant workers - from the Philippines, Eastern Europe, Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. Most of them are in the country legally and temporarily. However close to half of them have entered or remained illegally and their position is legally precarious. Nevertheless the substantial Christian presence among this population maintains a vibrant religious life and constitutes a significant third dimension to the Christian reality in Israel today. These factors have contributed, among others, to an increasing familiarity in Israel with contemporary Christianity".
"Christians in Israel are obviously in a very different situation from their sister communities in the Holy Land who are part and parcel of a Palestinian society struggling for its independence and who are inevitably caught up in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on a daily basis. ... It is only right and proper that such Palestinian Christians should express their distress and their hopes regarding the situation. ... The plight of Palestinians generally and Palestinian Christians in particular should be of profound concern to Jews both in Israel and the diaspora. To begin with, especially as Judaism brought the recognition to the world that every human person is created in the divine image. ... We have a special responsibility in particular for neighbours who suffer. This responsibility is even greater when suffering is born out of a conflict of which we are a part and paradoxically precisely where we have the moral and religious duty to protect and defend ourselves. ... Indeed Jewish responsibility to ensure that Christian communities flourish in our midst, respecting the very fact that the Holy Land is the land of Christianity's birth and holy places, is strengthened by our increasingly rediscovered fraternity.
"Yet even beyond our particular relationship, Christians as a minority in both Jewish and Muslim contexts, play a very special role for our societies at large. The situation of minorities is always a profound reflection of the social and moral condition of a society as a whole. The wellbeing of Christian communities in the Middle East is nothing less than a kind of barometer of the moral condition of our countries. The degree to which Christians enjoy civil and religious rights and liberties, testifies to the health or infirmity of the respective societies in the Middle East. Moreover as I have already indicated, Christians play a disproportionate role in promoting inter-religious understanding and co-operation in the country. Indeed I would presume to suggest that this is precisely the Christian metier, to contribute to overcoming the prejudice and misunderstanding that bedevil the Holy Land".
"The 'Instrumentum laboris' of this Special Assembly for the Middle East quotes Pope Benedict XVI: ... 'It is important on the one hand to have bilateral dialogues - with the Jews and with Islam - and then also trilateral dialogue'. Indeed this last year, for the first time, the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue and the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews co-hosted together with the International Jewish Committee for Inter-religious Consultations (IJCIC) and the foundation for the Three Cultures in Seville Spain, our first trilateral dialogue. This was a particular joy for me, ... and I earnestly hope that this is just the beginning of more extensive trilateral dialogue, to overcome suspicion, prejudice and misunderstanding, so that we may be able to highlight the shared values in the family of Abraham for the wellbeing of all humanity".
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