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Monday, October 11, 2010


VATICAN CITY, 10 OCT 2010 (VIS) - At 9.30 a.m. today, the Holy Father Benedict XVI presided at a concelebration of the Eucharist with Synod Fathers for the solemn opening of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, which is to be held in the Vatican's Synod Hall until 24 October. The theme of the synodal assembly is: "The Catholic Church in the Middle East. Communion and Witness. Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul".

  The Pope concelebrated with 177 Synod Fathers and 69 collaborators. Participating in the Eucharistic prayer were His Beatitude Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir, Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, Lebanon; His Beatitude Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, Iraq; Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches; His Beatitude Ignace Youssif III Younan, Patriarch of Antioch of the Syrians, Lebanon; His Beatitude Antonios Naguib, Patriarch of Alexandria of the Copts, Egypt, and Archbishop Joseph Soueif of Cyprus of the Maronites, Cyprus.

  "The Eucharistic celebration, the highest rendering of thanks to God, is marked for us today, gathered around the tomb of St. Peter, by an extraordinary event: the grace of seeing gathered together for the first time at a Synod, around the Bishop of Rome and the Universal Pastor, the bishops of the Middle Eastern region. Such a singular event demonstrates the interest of the whole Church for that precious and beloved part of God's people who live in the Holy Land and the whole of the Middle East", said the Pope at the beginning of his homily.

  "In those lands, the one Church of Christ is expressed in the variety of liturgical, spiritual, cultural and teaching traditions of the six venerable "sui iuris" Eastern Catholic Churches, as well as in the Latin tradition. This fraternal greeting which I address with great affection to the patriarchs of each of these Churches is, at the same time, extended to all the faithful entrusted to their pastoral care, in their respective countries as well as in the diaspora".

  Quoting today's readings from the Gospel - St. Luke's account of the healing of the ten lepers, and the story from the Second Book of Kings of the healing of Naaman, head of the Aramaean army - the Pope noted how they "offers a theme for meditation which brings us closer in a meaningful way to the event of the Synod".

  This theme is "that salvation is universal, but it passes through a specific historical mediation: the mediation of the people of Israel, which goes on to become that of Jesus Christ and the Church. The door of life is open for everyone, but this is the point, it is a 'door', that is a definite and necessary passage".

  "God is love and wants all men to be part of His life. To carry out this plan He, who is One and Triune, creates in the world a mystery of a communion that is human and divine, historical and transcendent: He creates it with the 'method' - so to speak - of the covenant, tying Himself to men with faithful and inexhaustible love, forming a holy people, that becomes a blessing for all the families of the earth. Thus He reveals Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Who wants to lead His people to the 'land' of freedom and peace. This 'land' is not of this world; the whole of the divine plan goes beyond history, but the Lord wants to build it with men, for men and in men, beginning in the co-ordinates of space and time in which they live and which He Himself gave them.

  "In its own specific way, what we call the 'Middle East' is part of those co-ordinates", the Holy Father added. "God also sees this region of the world from a different perspective, one might say, 'from on high': it is the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the land of the Exodus and the return from exile; the land of the Temple and of the Prophets, the land in which the Only Begotten Son of Mary was born, lived, died and rose from the dead; the cradle of the Church, established in order to carry Christ's Gospel to the ends of the earth. And we too, as believers, look to the Middle East in this way, from the perspective of the history of salvation".

  "Looking at that part of the world from God's perspective means recognising therein the 'cradle' of a universal design of salvation in love, a mystery of communion which becomes true in freedom and thus requires a response from man. Abraham, the prophets and the Virgin Mary are the protagonists of this response which, however, has its completion in Jesus Christ, Son of that same land yet descended from Heaven. From Him, from His Heart and His Spirit was born the Church, which is a pilgrim in this world yet belongs to Him. The Church was established to be a sign and an instrument of the unique and universal saving project of God among men. She fulfils this mission simply by being herself, that is, 'Communion and witness', as it says in the theme of this Synodal Assembly which opens today".

  "Without communion there can be no witness: the life of communion is truly the great witness. ... This communion is the same life of God which is communicated in the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ. It is thus a gift, not something which we ourselves must build through our own efforts. And it is precisely because of this that it calls upon our freedom and waits for our response: communion always requires conversion, just as a gift is better if it is welcomed and utilised. In Jerusalem the first Christians were few. Nobody could have imagined what was going to take place. And the Church continues to live on that same strength which enabled it to begin and to grow. Pentecost is the original event but also a permanent dynamism, and the Synod of Bishops is a privileged moment in which the grace of Pentecost may be renewed in the Church's journey, so that the Good News may be announced openly and heard by all peoples".

  The Pope continued his homily: "Therefore, the reason for this synodal assembly is mainly pastoral. While not being able to ignore the delicate and at times dramatic social and political situation of some countries, the pastors of the Middle Eastern Churches wish to concentrate on the aspects of their own mission. ... Ecclesial life, corroborated in this way, will see the development of very positive fruits in the ecumenical path with other Churches and ecclesial communities present in the Middle East.

  "This occasion is also propitious for a constructive continuation of dialogue with Jews, to whom we are tied by the indissoluble bond of the long history of the Covenant, as we are with Muslims. Moreover, the workings of the synodal assembly are oriented to the witness of Christians on a personal, family and social level. This requires the reinforcing of their Christian identity through the Word of God and the Sacraments. We all hope that the faithful feel the joy in living in the Holy Land, a land blessed by the presence and by the Paschal Mystery of the Lord Jesus Christ.

  "Over the centuries those places have attracted multitudes of pilgrims, as well as men and women in religious communities who have considered it a great privilege to be able to live and bear witness in the land of Jesus. Despite the difficulties, Christians in the Holy Land are called to enliven their consciousness of being the living stones of the Church in the Middle East, in the holy places of our salvation.

  "However, living in a dignified manner in one's own country is above all a fundamental human right: therefore, the conditions of peace and justice, which are necessary for the harmonious development of all those living in the region, should be promoted. Thus, everyone is called to make their personal contribution: the international community, by supporting a stable and constructive path towards peace; the main religions in the region, by promoting the spiritual and cultural values that unite men and exclude any expression of violence.

  "Christians", the Holy Father concluded, "will continue to contribute not only with work of social promotion, such as education and healthcare, but above all with the spirit of the evangelical Beatitudes which enliven the practice of forgiveness and reconciliation. In this commitment, they will always have the support of the entire Church, as is solemnly attested by the presence here of the delegates of the episcopacies of other continents".
HML/                                    VIS 20101011 (1470)

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