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Friday, October 15, 2010


VATICAN CITY, 14 OCT 2010 (VIS) - The Seventh 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 in the presence of the Holy Father. The president delegate on duty was His Beatitude Ignace Youssif III Younan, Patriarch of Antioch of the Syrians, Lebanon.

  Extracts from some of the Synod Father's speeches are given below:

CARDINAL PETER KODWO APPIAH TURKSON, PRESIDENT OF THE PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE. "Awareness of the website of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace should be encouraged as an instrument at the service of the local Churches for a deeper study of Church Social Doctrine. On this subject, the council undertakes to complete the translation of the Compendium of Church Social Doctrine into Arabic. Furthermore, given the council's intention to set up a summer school at the dicastery, we could also consider inviting and involving priests from the Middle East. ... Churches and minority religions in the Middle East must not be subject to discrimination, violence, defamatory propaganda (anti-Christian), or the denial of permits for building places of worship or for organising public functions. In fact, the promotion of the Resolutions against the Defamation of Religions in the framework of the United Nations should not limit itself to Islam (Islamophobia) in the Western world. It should include Christianity ... in the Islamic world. We could also promote the adoption, again within the UN framework, of a resolution on religious freedom as an alternative to the resolution on the defamation of religions".

RAYMOND MOUSSALLI, VICAR GENERAL OF THE PATRIARCHATE OF BABYLON OF THE CHALDEANS, JORDAN. "We are a part of the history and culture of this Middle Eastern region, and if we were forced to abandon it we would lose our identity within a generation. For this reason I hope that one of the things to emerge from this Synod will be the need for much closer collaboration between the heads of the various Churches, in mutual dialogue with our moderate Muslim brothers. As we know, our Churches, together with the clergy in Iraq, are being attacked. There is a deliberate campaign to drive Christians out of the country. Fundamentalist extremist groups have satanic plans against Christians, not only in Iraq but throughout the Middle East. ... We want to make the international community aware that it cannot remain silent in the face of the massacre of Christians in Iraq, and to encourage countries of Catholic tradition to do something for Iraqi Christians, beginning with placing pressure on their own governments. We are experiencing a catastrophic moment, with the emigration of families and the loss of our people who still speak the Aramaic language spoken by Our Lord Jesus Christ".

ARCHBISHOP EDMOND FARHAT, APOSTOLIC NUNCIO. "The Middle Eastern situation today is like a living organ which has received a transplant it cannot assimilate, and with no specialists capable of healing it. As a last resource, the Muslim Arab East turned trustingly to the Church, believing her capable of obtaining justice. But this has not happened leading to disappointment and fear. Confidence has turned to frustration and the crisis has become deeper. ... Today, the Church endures injustice and calumnies As in the Gospel, many leave, others lose heart or flee. The frustrated and desperate take their revenge on the innocent. But lying behind the physical assassinations and the most disastrous failures is sin. ... The action of God continues throughout history, and the Church in the Middle East is now experiencing the way of the Cross and purification, which leads to renewal and resurrection. The present suffering and anguish are the cries of a newborn infant. If they persist it is because the demons that torment our society can be chased away only by prayer. Perhaps we have not prayed enough!"

ARCHBISHOP RUGGERO FRANCESCHINI O.F.M. CAP. OF IZMIR, TURKEY, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE APOSTOLIC VICARIATE OF ANATOLIA AND PRESIDENT OF THE TURKISH EPISCOPAL CONFERENCE. "The little Church of Turkey, at times ignored, had her sad moment of fame with the brutal murder of Bishop Luigi Padovese O.F.M. Cap., president of the Turkish Episcopal Conference. In a few words I would like to close this unpleasant episode by erasing the intolerable slander circulated by the very organisers of the crime. It was premeditated murder, by those same obscure powers that poor Luigi had just a few months earlier identified as being responsible for the killing of Fr. Andrea Santoro, the Armenian journalist Dink and four Protestants of Malatya. It is a murky story of complicity between ultra-nationalists and religious fanatics, experts in the 'strategia della tensione'. The pastoral and administrative situation in the vicariate of Anatolia is serious. ... What do we ask of the Church? We simply ask what we are lacking: a pastor, someone to help him, the means to do so, and all of this with reasonable urgency. ... The survival of the Church of Anatolia is at risk. ... Nonetheless, I wish to reassure neighbouring Churches - especially those that are suffering persecution and seeing their faithful become refugees - that the Turkish Episcopal Conference will continue to welcome them and offer fraternal assistance, even beyond our abilities. In the same way, we are open to pastoral co-operation with our sister Churches and with positive lay Muslims, for the good of Christians living in Turkey, and for the good of the poor and of the many refugees who live in Turkey".

  After the Synod Fathers, a number of auditors also arose to address the gathering. Extracts from some of their remarks are given below.

MARCO IMPAGLIAZZO, PRESIDENT OF THE SANT'EGIDIO COMMUNITY. "It is in the interest of Muslim societies that Christian communities should remain lively and active in the Middle Eastern world. A Middle East without Christians would mean the loss of a presence within Arab culture, one capable of making pluralist claims in the face of political Islam and Islamisation. Without them, Islam would be more isolated and fundamentalist. Christians represent a form of resistance to an Islamisising totalitarianism. Their presence in the Middle East is in the general interest of the societies there, and of Islam. ... Not only is there a Christian past to be defended in the Middle East, but also a vision of the future based on the conviction that all Christians have a historical vocation: to communicate the name of Jesus, to live it and, thus, to work creatively to build a civilisation of coexistence, something the whole world needs. Here lies the duty of dialogue. ... The Middle Eastern Churches could be the artisans of a civilisation of coexistence, an example to the world, if they reintegrate and re-claim the high and strong sense of their mission".

PILAR LARA ALEN, PRESIDENT OF THE FOUNDATION FOR THE SOCIAL PROMOTION OF CULTURE. "Today the foundation is present in forty-one countries on four continents. In the five Middle Eastern countries, our main area, we have generated more than ninety-eight programmes with a turnover of more than sixty million euro. In the wake of these years of experience in the field, I would like to comment on the situation. In the Middle East we are witnessing the disappearance of entire Christian communities while the whole world, especially Europe, looks on indifferently. At the same time war is part of daily life; poverty is not the only reason for conflicts, more often it is the religious factor. Finally, Christians continue to live around their Churches, even if sometimes this is a mere social formality. The conclusion is that the Christian presence is fundamental for peace and reconciliation. But they should act without detaching religion from public life, as has happened in Europe, because this is of no utility to development. Religious values allow us to progress at both a social and personal level. Thus Christians must adapt their behaviour to their beliefs, overcoming hatred and resentment and seeking forgiveness. They should not preach the evangelical message in their words, then seek vengeance and armed conflict in their deeds. Every person has the obligation to obtain the formation which allows him to acquire the conditions to progress in his professional and Christian life".

  At 6.30 p.m. the president delegate invited two representatives of Islam to address the congregation: Muhammad al-Sammak, political adviser to the Grand Mufti of Lebanon, for Sunni Islam; and Ayatollah Seyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Ahmadabadi, professor at the Faculty of Law at the Shahid Beheshti University of Tehran and member of the Iranian Academy of Sciences, for Shia Islam.

MUHAMMAD AL-SAMMAK. "Two negative points demonstrate the problem faced by Eastern Christians: The first point concerns the lack of respect for the rights of fully equal citizenship when faced with the law in certain countries. The second concerns the misunderstanding of the spirit of Islamic teaching, especially as concerns relations with Christians whom the Holy Koran qualifies as 'nearest among them in love to the believers', justifying this love by saying 'this is because there are priests and monks among them and because they do not behave proudly'. These two negative points, with all they entail ... are bad for us all - Christians and Muslims - and offend us all in our lives and in our shared destinies. For this, we are called upon, as Christians and Muslims, to work together to transform these two negative elements into positive elements Firstly, by respecting the rules of citizenship, which impose equality first in rights and then in duties. Secondly, by denouncing the culture of extremism in its refusal of others and in its wish to have the monopoly on ultimate truth, and by working towards the promotion and spread of a culture of moderation, charity and forgiveness, such as respect for differences of religion and beliefs, of language, of culture, of colour and of race. As we are taught by the Holy Koran, we put ourselves at the judgment of God about our differences. Yes, the Christians in the Middle East are being tested, but they are not the only ones".

  "The Eastern Christian presence, which works and acts with Muslims, is a Christian as much as Muslim need. It is a need not only for the East, but also for the entire world. The danger represented by the erosion of this presence on the qualitative and quantitative levels is a Christian as well as an Islamic concern, not only for Eastern Muslims, but for Muslims all over the world. Furthermore, I can live my Islam with all other Muslims from all States and from all ethnicities, but as a Middle Eastern Arab, I cannot live my Arab identity without the Middle Eastern Christian Arabs. The emigration of Christians is an impoverishment of Arabic identity, of its culture and of its authenticity.

  "For this reason I underline once again, from the stage of the Vatican, what I have already said in Mecca: I am concerned about the future of Eastern Muslims because of the emigration of Eastern Christians. To maintain the presence of Christians is a shared Islamic duty as well as a shared Christian duty. The Christians of the East are not an accidental minority. They are at the origins of the presence of the East before Islam. They are an integral part of the cultural, literary and scientific formation of Islamic civilisation".

AYATOLLAH SEYED MOSTAFA MOHAGHEGH AHMADABADI. Speaking English he said: "During the past few decades, religions were faced with new conditions. The most important aspect of this is over-extended confusion of their disciples in real scenes of social life, as well as in national and international arenas. Before World War II, and in spite of technological developments, the followers of different religions, more or less lived within their own national boundaries. Neither the enormous problem of immigration existed nor did the great expansion of communication that connects so many different social groups together. ... But today we witness the great changes that have occurred in the past half century and that this transformation continues at an incredible pace. This not only had a qualitative effect on the relationship between religions, but has also affected relationships between different segments of religions and even with their own followers. Certainly no religion can remain indifferent toward this rapidly changing state".

  "In societies where different ethnic groups with their own languages and religions have been placed, for the sake of social stability and ethic sanity, one is required to respect their presence and their rights. Concordance of interests and social welfare on national and international levels is such that no one group or country can be disregarded. This is the reality of our time".

  "We should also consider what the ideal condition is for believers and followers? How is the best situation achieved? It seems that the ideal world would be the state where believers of any faith freely and without any apprehension, fear or obligation, could live according to the basic principles and modes of their own customs and traditions. This right which is universally recognised should be put into practice by States and communities".
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